Barty Gave Australian Open The Homegrown Champion It Craved

Ashleigh Barty (photo: Fiona Hamilton / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 30, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Ashleigh Barty gave the Australian Open the champion it had been craving – a homegrown one – who is now a Grand Slam champion on clay, grass and hard court. It took 44 years for the magic moment to happen in Melbourne. Hopefully, it won’t be another 44 years before the next time.

Saturday’s Australian Open women’s singles final will be remembered as one for the ages. The No. 1-ranked Barty defeated American Danielle Collins, seeded 27th, 6-3, 7-6 (2) to become the first Australian winner of an Australian Open singles title since unheralded Chris O’Neil in 1978.

Indeed, Australia’s nearly-five-decade drought is finally over. Not only did Rod Laver Arena nearly fill to the brim – allowing 80 percent capacity inside the stadium – there were plenty of Australian royalty from sports and entertainment among the in-crowd, including tennis legends Rod Laver and Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who presented Barty with the Daphne Ackhurst Memorial Cup trophy for winning the Australian Open women’s title; past Olympic heroes Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe; and actors Russell Crowe and Saoirse Ronan. O’Neil, now 65, helped deliver the winner’s trophy to the center court before the match.

Forever the competitor, Barty fought back from 1-5 down in the second set and drew even to force a tie break. Then, Barty unleashed everything she had in her arsenal: her pinpoint-accurate first serves, her backhand slices, and topspin forehands. Soon, Barty won the match – and the title – with a forehand passing shot winner. Then, she let out a uncharacteristic, big roar in celebration of the magic moment as the crowd rose to their feet in applauding their new champion.

Quickly, Barty embraced her former doubles partner and lifelong friend Casey Dellacqua, who was at courtside for Australian TV. It was Barty’s first pro doubles partner who played an important role in her journey into (and out of, and back into) tennis. Barty gave Dellacqua a forehead kiss before returning to accept and soak up the plaudits of the cheering crowd.

“To my team … wow,” Barty remarked during the trophy ceremony. “I’m so lucky tonight to have so many people here who love and support me. Pretty bloody special that my mum, dad and my sisters are here. Pretty rapt that they could come down here today. I’m an incredibly lucky girl to have so much love in my corner.”

Soon after, appearing on Australia’s Channel 9, Barty and Dellacqua shared a beer together on live television. Barty remarked: “Case changed my life. She brought me into this sport again and allowed me to grow as a person. I love her.”

Later, during her press conference, Barty spoke at length on Australia’s tennis heritage.

“As Aussies, we’re exceptionally lucky to be a Grand Slam nation,” she said. “To get to experience to play at home is really special, and to be here as a champion of the tournament is really exciting.

“We’re extremely lucky to have the tennis history and the rich 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 years, and have really set the platform for us to come through and try and do what we do and try and create our own path.

“I think there are a few that are closer to home for me. Obviously, more of their stories I’ve been more invested in just because I know them more as a person. Those people that come to mind, Pat Rafter and Evonne, in the way that they handled themselves on the court – for me, there’s just no one better. Recently, you’ve had Dylan [Alcott], Sam [Stosur], who are really able to just enjoy the experience and bring so many different people to tennis, bring so many different walks of life to this beautiful sport that we play.

I think I’m a very, very small part of that. 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.”

Craig Tyzzer: Points of view from Barty’s coach

Australian Craig Tyzzer, who coaches Ashleigh Barty, spoke to the media following the trophy ceremony Saturday and shared some keen insights.

There’s still areas we continue to work on still, she’s got to get better at. I’m not gonna tell you what they are, because that’s giving away a few too many secrets. But there’s still room for improvement,” Tyzzer said.

“I think what she’s done really well is just that she’s enjoyed it. She’s been really composed and enjoyed playing. Tonight, we knew what the challenges were going to be, like Danielle can just blow you off the court at times. So, she was looking forward to that challenge. OK, how do I figure out how to beat this girl who can just hit you into the corners and hurt you every time you drop it short?

“I think for her that’s the best part. She’s enjoying playing, enjoying the challenges. There are still areas we’ll work on with her game. I probably don’t have to do too much with her serve now. It seems to be working really well. But you’re always looking for areas to get better.”

Warm wishes and congratulations pour in for Barty

Hall of Fame legends Rod LaverBillie Jean King and Martina Navratilova along with current stars Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep and Iga Swiatek were among many in the tennis community – past and present – who shared their congratulations on social media. Among the tributes:

New WTA Top 10 rankings after the Australian Open

As the WTA takes a respite before resurfacing next month in St. Petersburg, Russia, the week of Feb. 7, the new Top 10 rankings post-Australian Open have a lot of familiar names and one new name, Danielle Collins, who made a big splash Down Under.

Ashleigh Barty remains ranked No. 1 followed by: Aryna Sabalenka, Barbora Krejcikova, Iga Swiatek and Karolina Pliskova in the first five. They are followed by Paula Badosa, Garbiñe Muguruza, Maria Sakkari, Anett Kontaveit and Collins.

Collins climbed 30 places from No. 30 into the Top 10 for the first time and she becomes the highest-ranked American for the first time, too.

Of particular note and interest, last year’s champion, Naomi Osaka, who lost in the third round, surrendered 1,870 points and dropped to No. 85. Meanwhile, 2017 Australian Open champion and 23-time major title winner Serena Williams, who has been idle since retiring from her first-round match at Wimbledon due to injury, has dropped to No. 246. She’s now the 33rd-ranked American.

By the numbers

The only active players who have won Grand Slams on hard courts, clay and grass are: Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Ashleigh Barty.

“Quotable …”

“I think I went in with the right game plan. I did, again, everything I could, but unfortunately there were some things that were just not working for me. That’s really hard technically, if you’re not in a good place physically, to be able to get yourself to do those things.

“Today, my body wasn’t always agreeing with me, and I was in a little bit of a fight with my body, which is expected when. You go this far in a tournament … But I’m just trying to stick with the process and do the best that I can. I’m learning a lot of things along the way. Ash certainly taught me a lot of things on court.”

Danielle Collins of the United States, from her post-match press conference following Saturday evening’s Australian Open women’s singles final.