By Jane Voigt, Tennis With An Accent
Who could say what would have happened had Amanda Anisimova stopped Ashleigh Barty’s comeback from a set and a break down in their 2019 semifinal match at Roland Garros? No one, really. All we know is that Barty was, is, and will continue to be a force to reckon with, as Anisimova found out yet again on Sunday, this time at The Australian Open. The tournament’s top seeded dominated the young American, 6-3, 6-4, to advance to the quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive time in Melbourne, going back to 2019.
“I enjoyed testing myself against her,” Barty told fans inside Rod Laver Arena, immediately following her victory. “To have the crowds here brings a lot more enjoyment,” she added, alluding to the lockdown requirements during last year’s tournament.
Next up for Barty is American Jessica Pegula (No. 21), who ousted Maria Sakkari on Sunday. There’s a history with Pegula, too, for Barty. Yes, the 2019 French Open is central to that point. She beat Pegula there as well before hoisting the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen.
“Jess was on fire today against Maria [Sakkari],” Barty said, giving a nod to the battle to come on Tuesday when they meet.
Battles, however, are fuel for Barty’s efficient engine. She had held serve 63 times in a row this season before Anisimova broke her in the second set Sunday. Nonetheless, those bold efforts from Amanda were tossed aside, as Barty immediately broke back.
“I try to be me. That’s all I can be. That’s who I want to be,” Barty said on court.
Barty played her classic style against Anisimova, varying the pace and tempo of her shots while mixing spins. The variety and change of tactics seemed to flummox Anisimova, whose quick-hit tennis was tested and ultimately thrown off balance. She attempted to stay in rallies and extend points, only to fall victim to Barty’s clever intent to force errors, a total of 34 when all was said and done. It was twice the amount Barty racked up.
“There’s every degree of variation coming her [Anisimova’s] way,” an ESPN commentator confirmed.
Both women demonstrated precise serving during the match, leaning on wide placement in the service box. The classic tactic set up potential winners off the return when executed well. However, Barty’s wide serve arrived with healthy helpings of junk on the ball, making it break away and wiggle. The wicked sideways action made it more difficult for Anisimova to control. Barty used that hopped-up serve to clinch the first set at love.
Barty’s slice reinforced what many view as her “old-school” game style. The underspin forced Anisimova to hit up on the ball, not out and through the ball, which is her forte, effectively throwing off her timing and ability to recover in a point.
“She’s used to hitting more of a line drive,” Chanda Rubin said, calling the match for ESPN. As a result she’s “hitting more of her shots wide.”
Anisimova arrived at Sunday’s encounter having notched her biggest career upset against defending champion Naomi Osaka. The American’s task against Barty, therefore, was formidable: Beat two Grand Slam singles champions back-to-back. After breaking in the second set, that possibility became a whisper. Then, up 40-15 at three games all, Anisimova missed an easy overhead smash. The error seemed to distract her enough that she dropped the game, handing the crucial break to Barty at 4-3. The finish line was straight ahead for the No. 1 seed.
Barty is vying for her third Grand Slam women’s singles title. As most fans know, winning on home turf is tough. Yet, on Sunday, Barty seemed at ease, her nose to the court, willing and able to fight as though history didn’t matter.
“I just have to hope that everyone understands that I’m giving it my best crack,” Barty said on Media Day, according to the WTA. “I can’t do any more than I can try. That’s all I can do. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”
This humble attitude and willingness to proceed as directed, her team always in the mix and at her side, could see Barty through to the crown come Saturday. You have to wonder, however, if an Australian Open title would rise above the sheer satisfaction of winning Wimbledon, where she stood on the shoulders of compatriot Evonne Goolagong Cawley and became the first Australian woman since 1980 to hoist the Venus Rosewater Dish. No Australian woman has hoisted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in Melbourne since Chris O’Neil in 1978. Bottom line: A similar piece of history could repeat itself. We’ll just have to wait and see.