Barty and Nadal lead weekend trophy haul

 - Alex Sharp

The preparations for the upcoming Australian Open have hit a pivotal stage with key contenders landing prestigious titles Down Under.

Ashleigh Barty Australian Open 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

It’s only seven days until the main draws of the Australian Open launch into life.

At the weekend several marquee names sent out a signal of intent with silverware lifted in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.

Here is a round-up of the champions… 

Majestic Barty gains momentum

A set and a break down to Coco Gauff in her opening match, world No.1 Ash Barty seemed in serious trouble. 

However, following the patterns, trusting the pre-season processes, the home favourite clicked into some devastating form to dispatch Sofia Kenin, Iga Swiatek and then Elena Rybakina 6-3, 6-2 in Sunday’s final to win her second Adelaide title.

The serve was punchy for plenty of free points, the knifed slice backhand was menacing, the general computer game point construction was a joy to witness. A home major is on the horizon and the 25-year-old will be crowned champion in this form. 

The decision to curtail her 2021 campaign after the US Open appears to have paid dividends.

“It's really exciting. We've obviously had a brilliant week… I got better and better,” stated the Australian, who also won the doubles event alongside compatriot Storm Sanders.

“I didn’t have that time off. The work that I do with my team behind the scenes puts me in the best possible position to play good tennis time and time again… I'm looking forward to what's to come for this Australian summer. I love playing at home. I take every opportunity as best I can.”

Monfils regains the spark

Gaël Monfils has been pretty outspoken about his mental struggles during the pandemic, adapting to stadiums without fans and searching for motivation.

Well, bursting into 2022, it’s great to see the reinvigorated Frenchman collect his 11st title and first since February 2020.

Monfils dazzled the Adelaide locals with his hotshots and daring play to edge Karen Khachanov 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday.

“I want to say thanks to my team,” said Monfils during the trophy ceremony. “We have had some tough moments, we lost a little bit of faith but we came back strong from July last year. It is amazing to play in front of you guys, to play in front of a full crowd with a good spirit and atmosphere, this is amazing.”

He’s smiling again, thriving on court – no-one will want to face Gaël over the net in Melbourne. 

Nadal and Halep offer up reminders

For the 19th consecutive season Rafael Nadal has won an ATP title. Talk about longevity. 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion has shrugged off a staccato 2021 to rule the Melbourne Summer Set.

Nadal fended off a set point in the opener and erased a break deficit in the second set to overcome the tricky serve and volley pursuit from American qualifier Maxime Cressy 7-6(6), 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena, where the Spaniard won the 2009 Australian Open. 

Now ranked at world No.6, Nadal was competing for the first time since August, a left foot injury halted his 2021. The top seed didn’t seem rusty at all, winning every set at the ATP 250 event, sprinkling in some incredible reaction shots and power play to chalk up his 89th career crown. 

I really worked hard, so I am quite satisfied the way that I approached all these very challenging months in terms of attitude, in terms of positive spirit and in terms of passion to try to be back,” declared the determined 13-time Roland-Garros winner.

“This title helps to keep going, and it's of course just the beginning.  I have a lot of things to keep improving, but I really want to do it, and I'm going to try hard.”

On the women’s side at the Melbourne Summer Set 1, Simona Halep hailed a “beautiful week,” having won her first silverware since Rome 2020.

The 2018 Roland-Garros winner had last season disrupted by calf and knee injuries, dropping out of the Top 20 for the first time since 2013.

Capping a strong week in style and in complete control, Halep steamrolled to a 6-2, 6-3 passage past Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova for her 23rd career title. 

“I had a tough five matches, and my body is good,” stated the Romanian, boosted ahead of the Melbourne major. “Physically I'm in the right place… it gives me confidence for what is coming.”

Halep’s former coach Darren Cahill is pitching in on Amanda Anisimova’s team and it’s working wonders. The 2019 Roland-Garros semi-finalist is re-emerging and prevailed in a three-set thriller over Aliaksandra Sasnovich to clinch her second ever title at the Melbourne Summer Set 2.  

Canada camaraderie the key

It was time for Canada to pop the champagne in Sydney as ATP Cup winners.

Spearheaded by long-time friends Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, who snatched away a deciding doubles against defending champions Russia in the semi-finals, Canada ousted Spain 2-0 in the trophy showdown.

Performances oozing with passion and energy, Shapovalov went straight sets against Pablo Carreno Busta before Auger-Aliassime posted 7-6(3), 6-3 over Roberto Bautista Agut to spark the Canada team celebrations. This meant a lot.

“The emotions are unbelievable. We left everything out there. We came back from far in this competition, losing our first four matches,” said world No.11 Auger-Aliassime. “But we never stopped believing. I think that’s very important. We trust each other to the highest level.”