TENNIS: An imperious Ashleigh Barty became the first Australian to win her Grand Slam on home soil in 44 years yesterday (January 29), stopping fearless American Danielle Collins’ charge in straight sets.
Ashleigh Barty celebrates after her final victory at the Australian Open in Melbourne yesterday (January 29). Photo: AFP
The world number one trailed 5-1 in the second set, but came back strong to win on a tiebreaker and sweep all 27and seeded 6-3, 7-6 (7/2) to be crowned Australian Open champion in front of a waiting crowd at Rod Laver Arena.
It was a third Slam title for the 25-year-old following her breakout success at Roland Garros in 2019 and Wimbledon last year, joining Serena Williams as the only active player to win majors on the three surfaces.
She achieved the feat with Christine O’Neill, the last Australian man or woman to win in Melbourne, watching in the stadium.
O’Neill won the title in 1978 and told reporters before the match, “I’m probably his (Barty’s) biggest fan. I would be happy to give it to her because she deserves it so much.
“She’s an absolute thinker, she’s a craftswoman, a bit like a chess player with the way she builds up points.”
It was feared she was overwhelmed by the weight of expectations, but the Aussie has faced intense pressure before, no more so than at Wimbledon last year.
Winning at the All England Club was the trophy she wanted more than any other, and she handled the occasion with aplomb.
She applied the same tactical sense with the resurgence of Collins, who got a boost after surgery last year for endometriosis that left her pain-free, winning her first two WTA titles.
She countered the 28-year-old’s power shots and big serves with her dizzying array of slices, precise serve, speed and flawless forehand, but got a major scare.
Both players comfortably held their first service games, offering few chances as they got a feel for each other.
But Collins was using his powerful groundstrokes and they were causing trouble.
She worked the first two with Barty serving at 2-2 and a wayward forehand gave her the first break point of the night.
The Aussie, however, held on and served with an ace.
She then shifted into high gear and pressured Collins’ serve to earn her first break point with a clean volley, and the American double faulted under pressure to go 4-2 behind.
With the crowd roaring her, Barty ran home 6-3 in 32 minutes.
But Collins hadn’t finished and came back strong, breaking Barty for 2-0 in the second set – a spell the Aussie has only suffered once before this tournament.
Collins fended off two break points to hold serve and while Barty made a statement by winning her next service game to love the American, she was puffed up and broke again for 5-1 as the header from series sent two double faults.
Barty was in deep trouble but incredibly found a way to come back, breaking for 2-5 with a few clean winners, then breaking again for 4-5 as Collins floundered on serve for the set.
She forced a tiebreaker and was still tasked with picking up her fourth victory in five meetings with Collins and making Australian history.