Ash Barty celebrates home triumph with Australian greats
MELBOURNE – Moments before the most important match of Ash Barty’s career in Australia, she bounced about on her feet, chatting to coach Craig Tyzzer in the corridors of Melbourne Park.
The world number one looked relaxed despite the enormity of the moment ahead of her at Rod Laver Arena.
Saturday’s warm-up for the Australian Open final involved playing cricket strokes. She clipped leg glances with her racquet and looked to be timing the ball sweetly.
She was preparing to end the title drought for locals at the Australian Open dating back to Chris O’Neil’s triumph in 1978, yet nothing about Barty’s demeanor seemed overly stressed.
It did not quite ring true on court as Danielle Collins launched a serious challenge in the second set of the contest, but ultimately Barty emerged as the champion with a 6-3 7-6(2) victory.
Since O’Neil’s victory 44 years ago, the nation has won the America’s Cup, multiple World Cups in cricket and rugby, dozens of Olympic gold medals, as well as titles in other sports.
However, conquering the Australian Open proved to be a challenge beyond the likes of Pat Cash, Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Stosur, who all captured majors elsewhere but failed to deliver on home soil.
That is until Barty came along to end the drought on Saturday, proving she was a master of all surfaces considering she has also triumphed on clay at Roland Garros in 2019 and on grass at Wimbledon last year.
Her childhood coach in Queensland, Jim Joyce, challenged her to be an all-court player and his protege has delivered beyond their wildest dreams.
The U.S. Open is now the only gap in her resume, though she has won a doubles title at Flushing Meadows. Yet the Australian is still coming to grips with her status as a world leader in tennis.
Belong with champions
“To be honest, I don’t really feel like I belong with those champions of our sport,” said the world number one.
“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 to have a Grand Slam title on each surface is pretty amazing. I never thought it would ever happen to me.”
Barty was handed the Daphne Ackhurst Memorial Cup by her friend Evonne Goolagong Cawley, whose presence was a closely guarded secret that even she was not aware of.
The first person she hugged on court was her long-time doubles partner Casey Dellacqua, who acted as a mother to Barty when she was a homesick teenager traveling away from home.
She gave ‘Australian of the Year’ Dylan Alcott, the quad wheelchair tennis champion, a lengthy hug in the corridors shortly after her triumph.
Outside the stadium Stosur, who was commentating on the match after retiring from singles last week, was dancing with glee. The 2011 U.S. Open champion could not wait to join her friend for the ‘Barty Party’.
The Australian Open champion touched on those friends and others such as Rafter, who has hit with her through the years, when explaining why her triumph meant so much to so many.
“As Australians, we’re extremely lucky to have the tennis history and the rich history that we do, particularly here at the Australian Open,” she said.
“There are a few that are closer to home for me, and 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… there’s just no one better.
“Now to be able to have this part of my dream kind of achieved is amazing. I have to really understand that that came from the processes that we put in with my team and the people that are around me, because without them, I wouldn’t be half the person that I am.”