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Old-style game, nerves of steel give Ash Barty and Australia a home-grown title

By Jane Voigt, Tennis With An Accent

Ashleigh Barty knows how to win, in a nice way. She smiles. She’s humble.  She inspires women in sports. Yet the engines behind this champion fire fiercely and relentlessly, as was witnessed on Saturday when the home-grown Barty let out a lion’s roar and became the first Australian woman to win the Australian Open in 44 years.

“As an Aussie… it’s about sharing with all of you,” Barty told the crowd in Rod Laver Arena, after closing out the match 6-3, 7-6(2), against American Danielle Collins. “Been nothing but exceptional.”

The victory accentuated Barty’s dominance as the world’s number one player, making this Grand Slam title her third overall. Barty joined the ranks of Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to have earned a major title on all three surfaces: hardcourt, grass, and clay.

“We did this all together,” she said. “I’m so proud to be an Aussie.”

Chris O’Neill was the last Australian woman to have won the title in 1978, defeating American Betsy Nagelsen. Collins was the fourth consecutive American Barty encountered on her way through this year’s draw. 

“Ash is a fabulous individual and a great ambassador for sport, tennis, women, her culture and country,” O’Neil said in a recent article from news.com.au.

Both women were playing in their inaugural Australian Open final, Collins having made a run to the quarterfinals in 2020 and the semifinals in 2019. Notably, Barty came into Saturday’s final with the momentum. She had lost only 21 games through the previous rounds, had not dropped a set, and had been broken only once. Only Serena and Venus Williams had dropped fewer games on their way to a final since 2000.

That solid pre-final record was seriously tested in set two, as Collins broke Barty early, imposing her aggressive game from inside the baseline.

“All of a sudden Collins is inside the baseline, taking the ball early, getting to the net,” an ESPN commentator announced, as the American won eight of nine net approaches. 

The shift in momentum was stark, Barty having lost one point on her first serve in the opening set. Then, in the second, she found herself in a deep hole at 1-5. Fans were all but assured a third set was on tap.

“Something I really admire about Ash’s game is her variety, you know, playing a different game style than pretty much all of the players on tour,” Collins told ausopen.com in a pre-match interview. “There is not too many that use the slice backhand the way that she does, and, you know, have the big serve the way that she does.”

These were the exact tactics Barty displayed with consistent precision, as she rose from the ashes to send the set to a tiebreak. She had imposed her game, the “old-style” game as it had been labeled. Her serve placement was key; it opened her mind and enabled her to pull off a memorable victory.

“You forced me to play my best tennis today,” Barty said, alluding to the reversal of fortune seen in that set.

Collins, a two-time NCAA champion (2014 and 2016) from the University of Virginia, came in with her own deep belief of victory. She took a gritty and determined stance to the court, emphasized by an occasional overzealous “Come on.” Although she left the tournament as the runner-up, she will take her rightful place in the top 10 Monday morning.

Barty’s place: No. 1.

“Her [Barty’s] style is different from the slog-from-the-baseline play, and that’s exactly how she dismantles them,” O’Neill emphasized.

To dismantle a forceful game also requires a steel-edged mind, which was the asset Barty won with and Collins lost with. Coming from 1-5 down to then pull off a dominant tiebreak (7-2) takes much more than old-school slices and targeted serve placement. Barty tapped into an asset few players even realize they possess, until they push and risk everything for the win. For that, she and her beloved Australia were rewarded.

“Been nothing but exceptional. One of the most fun [matches] I’ve played in front of you,” Barty said, smiling and looking up to an arena of elated fans.

“A great Grand Slam champion on three different surfaces, you are the complete player,” Rod Laver wrote on Twitter. “I am so happy for you tonight. There’s nothing like winning at home, congratulations Australian Open champion. It is wonderful to be here for this moment and to celebrate with Australia.”

The world welcomes Ash Barty’s humility, Aussie-ness, athleticism and pride. Tennis welcomes it, too.

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