Australian Open: Hometown favourite Ash Barty overcomes Jessica Pegula for semi-final spot at Melbourne

Shortly after booking a spot in an Australian Open semi-final for the second time, Ash Barty was on the phone to a close friend who had just achieved something even more remarkable on.

The reigning Wimbledon champion was on the verge of defeating American Jessica Pegula 6-2 6-0, when Dylan Alcott was announced Australian of the Year.

Alcott reached the quad wheelchair singles final hours earlier, beating Brit Andy Lapthorne 6-3 6-0, and then flew to Canberra for a ceremony in his honour.

Barty, who will face another American Madison Keys in Thursday's semi-final, says the example set by the wheelchair champion is inspirational.

"What an incredible human being he is," she says. "He is an incredible athlete, second, but absolutely just an incredible man first.

"The way he has impacted a whole nation has been absolutely remarkable and I could not be more rapt for him to be the Australian of the Year."

Barty is now within two victories of another defining moment in her career, after a dominant display against Pegula.

The American was a quarter-finalist last year and entered the match with a straight-sets win over Greek Maria Sakkari, but she was blitzed by Barty, who won the last nine games of the match.

"I think she's definitely living in everyone's head a little bit," Pegula says.

The world No.1 is trying to become the first local since Chris O'Neil in 1978 to win the Australian Open and has yet to drop a set in this tournament.

The Australian walked on to Rod Laver Arena to a rousing reception, despite the stadium court being below the 50 percent restriction, due to COVID-19 guidelines.

The crowd had just celebrated the elevation of past Australian legends Maud Margaret Molesworth and Joan Hartigan into the nation's tennis Hall of Fame, but wanted to see the modern-day champion excel and the local favourite delivered.

Barty expects a testing battle against Keys, who played superbly, when defeating reigning French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 6-3 6-2.

She has won two of her three outings against Keys, with the most recent in the 2019 French Open quarter-finals - the year she claimed the title.

The 25-year-old is delighted that the former US Open finalist, who has battled mental health and injury issues, has regained her best form.

"It is so nice to have Maddy back playing her best tennis," says Barty. "She deserves to be at the top of our game."

The dual Grand slam winner was heavily favoured when edged by eventual champion Sofia Kenin in a semi-final of the Australian Open two years ago, but feels like a superior player now.

"I have grown as a person, I have grown as a player," says Barty. "I feel like I am a more complete player.

"I have a couple of more years of experience under my belt in handling different experiences and problem solving out on the court."