By Golly, Ashleigh Barty And Danielle Collins Will Meet In Australian Open Final

Ashleigh Barty (photo: Australian Open video)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 27, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Ashleigh Barty has become the first Australian woman to advance to the Australian Open final since Wendy Turnbull in 1980. Make no mistake, she’s on a hot streak and determined to re-write tennis history.

On Thursday evening, a fresh and focused Barty dominated her American opponent, No. 51 Madison Keys, during their 62-minute semifinal on Rod Laver Arena. The top seed was impressive as she defeated Keys, a former US Open finalist, 6-1, 6-3, in a match-up of variety versus power.

The cool and calm Barty, 25, who faced just two break points and lost only 10 points on her serve against Keys the entire match, has been pretty unstoppable throughout the Melbourne fortnight. She relied on all of her weapons to beat the 26-year-old Keys: her serve, her forehand, her slice, mixing up her pace and spin, her movement. Barty finished with five aces, hit seven winners and made just nine unforced errors. She won 86 percent (24 of 28) of her first-serve points, broke Keys four times in six tries, and outpointed her opponent 65-39. On the other side of the net, Keys managed just five winners and made 19 unforced errors.

The loss ended a career-best 10-match winning streak for Keys that began earlier this month with her title run at the Adelaide International 2 in South Australia.

Through the semifinal round, Barty has not dropped a set en route to the title match. She will face No. 27 seed Danielle Collins of the United States, who beat No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, 6-4, 6-1, in the other Thursday evening semifinal to advance to her first Grand Slam final. Collins struck seven aces, hit 19 winners and made just nine unforced errors during her 78-minute victory over the 2020 French Open champion.

Barty’s road to her first Australian Open final has included wins over qualifier Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, qualifier Lucia Bronzetti of Italy, No. 30 seed Camila Giorgi of Italy, Amanda Anisimova of the United States, No. 21 seed Jessica Pegula of the United States and Keys. Her total time on court has been an economical six hours and six minutes.

The Queenslander arrives at the title match undefeated this season, sporting a 10-0 win-loss record. She’s has held serve in 47 of 48 service games during the tournament. A win over Collins in the final would give Barty a major title on each surface and be a rewarding complement her 2019 French Open and 2021 Wimbledon crowns.

No doubt, based upon her play over the first 11 days Down Under, Barty will be the favorite against Collins, and playing for the title in front of her home country is something she embraces.

“Over the last three or four years, I’ve loved playing here in Australia,” Barty said. “I’ve had my best results here over the last little period. It’s really exciting now that we get to play for a title on a Saturday at your home Slam.”

Later, during her press conference, Barty added: “It’s fun. It’s brilliant to be playing in the business end of your home slam. I’m not going to lie about that. It’s amazing. I think being able to experience it multiple times has been incredible, but Saturday’s going to be a new experience for me. So, I go out there and embrace it, smile, try and do the best that I can and whatever happens, happens.”

In her semifinal, Barty breezed to a 6-1 first-set lead, breaking Keys with a clean forehand return winner to wrap up the 26-minute opener. As the second set developed, it became a tale of Barty simply being too good. She neutralized Keys’ power game and remained graceful under pressure – making good decisions – and hitting the right shots at the right time, whether it be a backhand slice, a powerful forehand or the occasional slight-of-hand drop shot. Anything to keep Keys off-balance and guessing. Everything seemed to click for the affable Aussie.

Soon, it was over. After Barty secured match point, the two proud competitors exchanged cordial words at the net. Despite the loss, Keys left the court smiling. No doubt, she gained a new admiration of Barty’s abilities. The World No. 1 spoke glowingly of her fallen opponent during her on-court interview.

“It’s so nice to see her back where she belongs,” Barty said. “The thing I love most about Maddie, no matter what happens on the court, she looks you in the eye, gives you a good handshake. I just love that about her, a lot of girls do. We really respect her and love her.”

In her post-match press conference, Keys shared her point of view about Barty: “She’s just playing incredibly well. I mean, you have a game plan in your head, but she’s just executing everything so well. She’s serving incredibly well, so you don’t get any free points on that. Her slice is coming in so much lower and deeper than it was in the past, so it’s hard to do anything on that. Then, you try to play to her forehand and she can open you up there.”

Next, Barty will head into the final leading her head-to-head series with Collins 3-1, but the American won in Adelaide, Australia last year in their most recent match. Twice, they’ve gone to three sets (2019 Madrid on clay and 2020 Adelaide on hard court), both won by Barty. However, Collins, who is regarded as one of the great competitors in women’s tennis, is much improved – both serving and returning well. She won 86 percent of Swiatek’s second-serve points Thursday in improving to 6-0 on the young season.

“We’ve had some incredible battles over the years,” said Collins, 28, a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Virginia and twice an Australian Open semifinalist. “To play against the No. 1 player in the world in her home country, I think it’s going to be really spectacular. I love the energy the fans bring whether they are for me or for my opponent.”

Earlier, Collins was pushed to three sets by Clara Tauson of Denmark and 19th seed Elise Mertens of Belgium. Otherwise, Collins has won four times in straight sets and has captured each of her last six sets over the past three matches.

Since returning to the WTA Tour nine months ago after her struggles with endometriosis, Collins has been nothing short of impressive, compiling a 32-7 singles record. Win or lose against Barty, she will climb to No. 10 in the new WTA rankings on Monday, becoming the American No. 1.

Meanwhile, Barty has a chance to become the first Australian to win the singles title in Melbourne since Chris O’Neil in 1978. As Barty’s on-court interview concluded, her final words, when Jim Courier asked if she’s ready for Saturday evening’s final in Rod Laver Arena: “Absolutely. Let’s do it.”

An unlikely All-Aussie men’s doubles final is set

For the first time since 1980, there will be an all-Australian men’s doubles final at the Australian Open.

On Thursday afternoon, Australian wild cards Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis knocked off the No. 3 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, 7-6 (4), 6-4, in an hour and 47 minutes in front of an enthusiastic – and at times boisterous – crowd that filled Rod Laver Arena. The “Special K” team, as they’ve become known during the Melbourne fortnight, combined to serve 13 aces and hit 45 winners. They outpointed their opponents 70-63.

“I’ve played a lot of singles matches around the globe with amazing atmospheres but this week, with Thanasi and playing in front of you, nothing beats this,” Kyrgios said during an on-court interview.

“Playing in front of you guys brings the best out of us,” Kokkinakis added. “I don’t know if we’d have this result anywhere else.”

En route to the final, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis have knocked off top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia; No. 6 seeds Tim Puetz of Germany and Michael Venus of New Zealand; and 15th seeds Ariel Behar of Uruguay and Gonzalo Escobar of Ecuador.

In the other semifinal, Australians Matt Ebden and Max Purcell reached the final with a 6-3, 7-6 (9) victory over No. 2 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, the 2020 Aussie champions.

Playing in their second tournament together, Ebden and Purcell advanced with earlier victories over No. 10 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain; and 13th seeds Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Ben McLachlan of Japan.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s final, Ebden said: “We know exactly what they can do, we respect how they can play. We have to find out [a] way to counter that, do what we do. We’re obviously going to go for it, we want to win as many slams as we can.

“There’s a good chance starting Saturday night. These are the big matches you play for.”

Even in defeat in his final match, Alcott leaves tennis a winner

Australia’s Dylan Alcott signed off on his eight-year professional tennis career Thursday afternoon in front of his home fans on Rod Laver Arena. It ended in a defeat to Sam Schroeder of the Netherlands, 7-5, 6-0, in an hour and 40 minutes. The victory rewarded the Dutchman with his first Australian Open quad wheelchair singles title and denied Alcott of winning an eighth Aussie title in the final match of his storied career.

The 22-year-old Schroeder, who lost last year’s Australian Open final to Alcott, 6-1, 6-0, is now a two-time quad singles Grand Slam champion. In their seventh career meeting, it was Schroeder’s second win over Alcott and first since the 2020 US Open final.

“Congrats to Dylan on an amazing career,” Schroeder said during the trophy ceremony. “You’ve inspired so many people to get out there and play sports. You’ve done a great job inspiring the world. I hope to one day be able to do just one small part of that as well. Thank you for all that you’ve done.

“It’s always great being back here,” Schroeder added. “I love the weather; I love you guys coming to watch here. It was a very special moment for me having so many people come to watch us and cheer us on.”

Alcott retires having won 23 quad wheelchair Grand Slam trophies. He’s the first man to win the Golden Slam in any form of tennis following his clean sweep in 2021 (four majors plus the Paralympics gold medal).

Afterward, Alcott expressed his heartfelt feelings in a social media post. He wrote: “Not my day today – but can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for every single one of you for changing my life.

“I’m so proud of what we have achieved together. Thank you for making me feel worthy. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

By the numbers

• Thursday’s Day 11 attendance at Melbourne Park reached 17,352.

“Quotable …”

“Over the last three or four years I’ve loved playing here in Australia. I’ve had my best results here over the last little period. It’s really exciting now that we get to play for a title on a Saturday at your home Slam.”

Ashleigh Barty of Australia, describing the feeling of playing for the Australian Open title in her home country.

“To be through to the final is really incredible. It think I’m at a loss for words right now.”

Danielle Collins of the United States, reacting to advancing to her first Grand Slam final.

What they’re sharing on social media

Dylan Alcott / I’m so proud of what we have achieved together