AO 2022: Barty revels in Ash good as it gets

 - Alex Sharp

World No.1 Ash Barty clinched her third Grand Slam to become the first Australian Open women’s singles champion since 1978.

Ashleigh Barty / Trophée Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Back at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club in 1978, Chris O’Neil won the Australian Open women’s singles title 6-3, 7-6(3) against Betsy Nagelsen.

Now, Nagelsen had a coaching stint with Danielle Collins in 2019.

Fast forward to Saturday night on Rod Laver Arena and Ash Barty ended 44 years of wait for a home women’s champion with a majestic 6-3, 7-6(2) triumph over Collins.

Just one point of difference in the tie-break, that’s quite the connection. It seems it’s been destiny for Barty to become the Australian Open champion.

The world No.1 stated it’s a “dream come true for me. I’m so proud to be an Aussie.” Barty is thrilled to be joining her compatriots amongst the green and gold greats.

“As Australians, we're extremely lucky to have the rich tennis history that we do, particularly here at the Australian Open. But across all Grand Slams, we've had champions that have stemmed back years and years and have really set the platform for us to try and create our own path,” suggested the top seed.

“I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing myself, but to be a very small part of an amazing history in tennis as an Australian is really, really neat.”

The Queenslander lifted her maiden major at Roland-Garros 2019 and then ruled SW19 to take home the Wimbledon trophy last July. Barty joins a pretty elite list of active players; Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, with Grand Slams across the three surfaces of clay, grass and hard courts.

For Barty the foundations were set very early on, but is adamant she’s not the finished article, the complete player.

“There's still work to be done, without a doubt. I feel very humble to be in such a select group. I don't really feel like I belong with those champions of our sport. I'm still very much learning and trying to refine my craft and try and learn every single day and get better and better,” continued the 25-year-old.

“It's amazing to be able to have this experience and this opportunity on three different surfaces and be really consistent across the board. So very, very lucky and very humbled and privileged to be able to be a part of it.”

After her major breakthrough on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Barty went onto become world No.1 in June 2019 and has dominated the tennis landscape since. The home charge has now claimed 12 of 14 career finals.

She continued to raise the bar this fortnight, conceding just 30 games across the seven matches, without dropping a set.

Onto the court and down break point at 2-2, Barty kicked up a looping second serve and then pinged a vicious inside-in forehand winner. Such astute tactical play, such supreme execution. No one has been able to live with the Australian’s variety.

Up 5-3 Barty was left chuckling, witnessing Australian elite coach Josh Eagles catch an errant ball from the front row. All in her stride, Barty was really embracing the occasion.

Collins, breaking into the Top 10 next week, turned the tide, ripping the ball to lead the second set 5-1. This triggered the toolbox to be opened by the Australian.

Shaped shots, controlled aggression, canny placement, Barty erased that deficit to then claim a tense but captivating tie-break. Time for Barty to toast victory with a hug from her best mate Casey Dellacqua in front of a rocking Rod Laver Arena.

“It was a little bit surreal. I think I didn't quite know what to do or what to feel, and I think just being able to let out a little bit of emotion, which is a little bit unusual for me, and I think being able to celebrate with everyone who was there in the crowd, the energy was incredible tonight,” continued the world No.1, delighted to have her family there to witness the incredible triumph.

“I think being able to understand how much work my team and I have done behind the scenes and over the last few years, to get to this point to be able to have this opportunity was really special.”

Ashleigh Barty / Victoire Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

There was an extra surprise for Barty, with mentor and fellow champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley joining the party to hand over the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup to the top seed.

“I thought she wasn't coming, and I'd spoken to her earlier in the week, she was staying at home and not being able to travel down this year. So to have that surprise was amazing,” reflected Barty.

“It's the first time I've seen her in 12 months. We had a few hugs for a few different reasons, and to be able to actually see her in the flesh and chat to her was incredible. To be able to experience that together on such a big occasion, on such a beautiful court, and in a tournament that means so much to both of us, I think it was really nice to have her there just as someone to lean on when I wasn't really sure what to do.

“She's an amazing human being, and I'm very, very lucky to be able to call her a friend. Very lucky to be able to give her a hug in some of the biggest moments in my life.”

Next stop on Barty’s Grand Slam journey – a return to Roland-Garros. No one would bet against Barty building another ‘biggest moment.’

Ashleigh Barty et Danielle Collins / Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT