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Collins-Barty final neatly encapsulates women’s tennis in 2022

If you were to offer a succinct summary of women’s tennis, how would you arrive at the right words and the proper points of emphasis? What would be your central big-picture summation of the sport in the present moment? Plenty of good and reasonable answers exist. This is not a trick or a trap. You can come up with your own formulation, and I’m sure it will be fine.

I will only speak for myself when I say this: It’s a lot of chaos, ay nd Ash Barty standing above it.

That’s my Cliff’s Notes reading of WTA tennis right now.

Barty hasn’t stacked together 3 major finals in the same year just yet — heck, she hasn’t even produced 3 major semifinals in the same calendar year — but her dominant run to the 2022 Australian Open final, after taking the latter stages of the 2021 season off to mentally refresh and recharge, shows that she remains very much the best player in the world by a good margin.

Keep this in mind about Barty: She was hurt at Roland Garros last year. She was mentally fried at the U.S. Open due to living out of a hotel and a suitcase throughout the 2021 season. There is no such thing as “normal” in a pandemic. Had Barty been healthy and free to fly home to Australia in 2021 — things which would be true in a “normal” year — she might have been able to stack together more major-tournament results of note. As is, her ability to hit the reset button at the start of 2022 and blitz the tour en route to the final is a simple, clear affirmation of how good she is, and how good she is likely to remain, for a good long while.

Like Roger Federer in 2004, present-day Ash Barty has figured out how to use all the tools in her toolbox. Playing with clarity and confidence, her variety and authoritative command have formed a knockout combination should continue to keep her at World No. 1 for some time. Making the final here gives her a solid points pickup which will add to her lead over No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka. Barbora Krejcikova, who is No. 3, has all those Roland Garros points to defend this spring. Iga Swiatek, who lost in the other Australian Open semifinal, is a distant No. 4.

Barty has a great chance to go wire-to-wire as World No. 1 in 2022, especially if Sabalenka doesn’t win a major. She is the class of the tour and has reminded everyone of that reality in Melbourne Park. If there is chaos on the tour, she stands above it.

Let’s talk about that chaos now.

It’s not bad chaos; it’s merely the cluttered and constantly changing world of women’s tennis alongside Ash Barty’s brilliance.

One major tournament after another, a player who hasn’t made a major final or who is ranked outside the top 20 comes alive and wins six matches to play for a coveted tennis trophy.

Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez did this in New York several months ago. Krejcikova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova did the same in Paris last June. Jennifer Brady did this dance in Melbourne last February. There is usually a different face who gains a new moment in the major final spotlight, and the notable thing about this pattern is that these continued occurrences don’t seem like flukes.

They just seem like natural products of the WTA’s depth … and the chaos which accompanies it.

It’s hard to call Danielle Collins’ run to the final an “out of nowhere” occurrence. This is true partly because she had previously made an Australian Open semifinal in 2019. It’s true partly because Collins can simply play. She’s a high-level player who, in a vein somewhat similar to Madison Keys (whom Barty thrashed in the semifinals in Australia), can get into a hit-or-miss mode and suffer as a result. She can blow hot and cold, and when the setting is on “cold,” Collins instantly loses her effectiveness.

Yet, Iga Swiatek and a worldwide audience saw what Collins can do — and become — when locked in and focused.

Mercy.

Collins showed none of it. She ruthlessly bludgeoned the ball and gave Swiatek, a highly accomplished player, no chance to breathe.

You wouldn’t call Collins a fluke, at least if you wanted to be taken seriously and earn respect as a commentator. This is elite ballstriking, a classic display of imposing, first-strike tennis. She might not have reached a major final before now, but that doesn’t make her run uniquely improbable or aberrational.

We can call this an aberration strictly in the sense that it hadn’t happened before, but in terms of seeing this run unfold, it’s hardly the kind of thing which fails to make sense. It’s not baffling at all. It’s not an instance which leads any rational person to say, “What an absurd turn of events. This is never going to happen again.”

Au contraire. Looking at Collins blowtorch her way through the field — especially Swiatek — it’s clear that the opposite is true. This probably IS going to happen again at some point.

We just don’t know when.

It’s a lot like Madison Keys’ run to the semis. No, it wasn’t a fluke. Keys has always had the game to be a semifinal-level player at majors. We have seen her do this before.

Collins and her feats exist in the same vein. I would bet that both Americans will make another major semifinal beyond this one.

It just won’t come when everyone is expecting it. That’s the chaos of women’s tennis.

Ash Barty’s elite quality. The WTA’s endless quality depth producing a new major finalist. The 2022 Australian Open women’s singles final neatly encapsulates where the WTA Tour stands in the present moment.

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