Ash on a mission

World No.1 is in scary form as she sets up Anisimova rematch in Melbourne

Ashleigh Barty Australian Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

Ashleigh Barty vividly remembers how she felt the last time she faced Amanda Anisimova, her upcoming fourth round opponent at the Australian Open.

It was in the Roland-Garros semi-finals in 2019 and it featured one of Barty’s grittiest performances to date.

Barty, seeded No.8 at the time, let a 5-1 lead slip in the opening set and suddenly found herself down a set and 0-3 to the then 17-year-old Anisimova. The Australian refused to fold however and instead took the next six games and eventually won the match before going on to lift her maiden Grand Slam title.

Turning point

It was a defining moment in Barty’s career as she now prepares to reunite with Anisimova on court on Sunday as a world No.1 and a two-time major champion.

“I remember that I learned a lot from that moment,” Barty told reporters at Melbourne Park, reflecting on that semi-final in Paris.  

“That was a turning point in my career, and you have to be able to take learnings from those moments, as hard as they are sometimes, and I was able to navigate and find a way through; which at that point in my life, in my career, it was a massive turning point.

“Obviously it feels like it's a lifetime ago, but some of those memories are still really vivid. Without a doubt we will take that and use that experience, use those feelings and those emotions as best we can come Sunday.”

Ashleigh Barty - Amanda Anisimova - Roland-Garros 2019 - demi-finale©Cedric Lecocq / FFT

That spring day on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, Barty could not believe how she managed to overcome all the challenges that came her way.

“That was one of the toughest things I have been through,” the Queenslander said on court upon victory. “My toughest match mentally, physically, the occasion, the conditions – it was pretty brutal out there.”

Barty gave herself a pep talk while down in the second set – one she refers to often but never reveals exactly what it contained.

“I remember the biggest moment of that match was coming out of the chair at 3-Love down the second set,” she recalls.

“I remember that to this very day what I was saying to myself at that change of ends. From then on, it's held me in pretty good stead, sticking to those values and continuing to try and grow each and every time on court and problem-solve and work my way through.

“It hasn't worked every time, but it's made me really comfortable and made me feel like I belong out on the court. I get to do it my way. I get to be unique. I get to experiment and I get to have fun with it.”

Stunning streak

Two and a half years on, Barty is battle-hardened and one of the toughest players on tour, both mentally and technically.

Looking to become the first Australian woman to win the Australian Open since 1978, Barty enters her last-16 showdown with Anisimova carrying a 7-0 undefeated record so far this season, and unbroken in her last 58 service games – played across six matches. It is a remarkable run of service holds that is extremely difficult to pull off given how well players return on the women’s tour.

The 25-year-old leads this year’s Australian Open field with an 84 percent winning rate on points behind her first serve and has dropped a mere eight games en route to the fourth round this fortnight.

“It's been fantastic. It's been really solid over the last couple of weeks,” Barty says of her service holds streak, which began during her title run in Adelaide earlier this month.

“Particularly in Adelaide I felt like I found a really good rhythm with it. Here so far in my matches I've been able to squeeze out of a few really tough games, and obviously a big one tonight from Love-40 into the wind was a big game,” she added, referring to her third round win over Camila Giorgi.

“I felt like once I was able to steady the ship with that one, got a little bit more confidence just to go up and hit my spots and still be aggressive on my service games when I had that ball in hand. So I think all in all, it's been a really positive start with regards to the serving.”

Amanda Anisimova / Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Anisimova booked her place in the last 16 with an impressive final-set tiebreak victory over defending champion Naomi Osaka.

The 20-year-old American also kicked off her 2022 campaign by winning a title – the Melbourne Summer Set earlier this month – and will no doubt prove to be Barty’s toughest test so far in this Australian Open.

“She's an amazing player. I look up to her a lot. I love her game. She's very consistent. She's a champion,” said Anisimova of Barty. “So it's just going to be exciting to go up against her, another amazing opportunity for me.”