Ash Barty fulfilled another lifelong ambition on Saturday evening, to win her home Grand Slam, the Australian Open title, after a 44-year drought, letting out an uncharacteristic roar when she struck her winning forehand that put away any further challenge from Danielle Collins.
As an Aussie the most important part of this tournament is being able to share it with so many people and you guys in the crowd have been nothing shy of exceptional. You relaxed me and forced me to play my best tennis against a champion like Danielle. I knew I absolutely had to bring that today. And congratulations to Danielle, it’s been an amazing fortnight and you’re back in the top 10 where you belong, Ash Barty
The fearless American had battled back after losing the first set to lead 5-1 in the second, as Barty’s impeccable game visibly wobbled, but, somehow, the World No 1 held her nerve to slice and dice her way back into contention.
It took a second set tiebreak to resolve the issue, but Barty had broken Collins’ spirit by then, and she cruised to a most memorable victory, 6-3 7-6(2), sending fans inside and outside the stadium to their feet with an equally deafening roar that would have lifted the roof on Rod Laver Arena had it been closed.
“This is just a dream come true for me, and I’m so proud to be an Aussie,” Barty said, turning to her team in the player box. “We started right from the start, the second part of our career, we did it all together, no-one has changed, it’s been incredible.”
Barty took a break and returned to pro tennis in 2016 after a two-year sabbatical.
“I love you guys to death, you are the absolute best in the business, and I can’t thank you enough for all the time and love you put into me,” she added.
“It’s pretty bloody special that mum and dad, and my sisters are here, and I’m so happy they could be here today.
“I am an incredibly fortunate and lucky girl to have so much love in my corner.”
Barty was presented with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup by her friend and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who was a surprise guest in the on-court ceremony.
It was an emotional reunion, which Barty later told the Nine Network was a ‘hell of a surprise’ to be presented with the trophy by Cawley.
“I do not quite know how Craig [Tiley] kept that secret,” she said. “I am really glad I did not know. I think I would have been under the pump.”
Barty is now the first home player to claim the AO title since Chris O’Neill, who was watching in the stadium and won it in 1978, as well as the second First Nations woman to win the tournament following Cawley’s 4 victories from 1974 to 1977, and her name now joins O’Neil, Goolagong Cawley, Kerry Reid and Margaret Court’s etched on the trophy.
Barty was also touched that Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman was watching on in the crowd.
“Looking up at the end to see Cathy, she is an inspiration, and inspiration to so many people all around the globe,” Barty said. “For our heritage and family, she is just the best.
“To share that tonight with Evonne Goolagong and Cathy, I will never forget it.”
Both Barty and Collins held their early service games with relative ease, offering few chances to each other, but as the American 27th seed found her range on her heavy groundstrokes, these began to cause Barty some difficulties.
She worked the first deuce with Barty serving at 2-2, and a wayward forehand offered Collins the opening break point of the night, but the Aussie held firm and served out with an ace.
Having escaped, Barty stepped up a gear to put pressure on the Collins serve, earning herself a first break point with a fine volley, prompting the American to double-fault about a yard long to fall 2-4 down.
As the set reached its later stages, the top seed limited Collins’ chances of attacking with her backhand and, with the crowd roaring her on, Barty raced home, 6-3, in 32 minutes.
Stung by the loss, Collins, who had only lost once since the start of 2021, apart from a retirement, bounced back with a vengeance.
The 25-year-old was unfazed and doubled her effort, pushing Barty into 2 errant forehands at 0-1 to gain 2 break points, the second of which she took after a solid approach shot led to a thunderous smash.
As Collins showed her emotion for the first time, bending down with a fist pump accompanying a ‘come on’ full of conviction, the crowd was hushed as this was only the second time Barty had dropped her serve this fortnight.
Collins fended off 2 break points to consolidate for 3-0, and although Barty held her next delivery to love, the American broke again for 5-1 when the top seed coughed up 2 double-faults.
The American, who upset 2020 French Open winner Iga Swiatek in the semi-finals, had managed to do what no one else had achieved, that is create some breathing space against Barty, who was now in deep trouble and heading for a 3rd set.
Incredibly, the Aussie found a way back as she shed any remaining inhibitions, breaking for 2-5 as she began to unload on her forehand to capture the next 3 games for 4-5.
Barty was still in a tricky position, though, especially when she conceded the first point in the ensuing game when, at 0-15, a cross-court approach gave Collins a slight opportunity, but her pass found the net and, producing some crisp winners, the Aussie broke her again.
Rod Laver Arena erupted with wild applause when Barty won a 4th consecutive game to level the set at 5-5, but Collins halted the run when she held serve, before the World No 1 held one more time to force a tiebreak in which she rushed out to a 4-0 lead.
Collins got herself on the board, but there was no stopping Barty’s momentum now, as she converted on championship point with a forehand winner.
It was her 4th victory in 5 encounters with Collins, and she made history for Australia as she notched up her 3rd Grand Slam title, having won the French Open in 2019 and Wimbledon last year, joining Serena Williams as the only active players to win majors on all three surfaces.
Barty was embraced by her close friend and former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua court-side, as a smiling O’Neil applauded from the stands.
“As an Aussie the most important part of this tournament is being able to share it with so many people and you guys in the crowd have been nothing shy of exceptional,” Barty told fans on court. “You relaxed me and forced me to play my best tennis against a champion like Danielle.
“I knew I absolutely had to bring that today.
“And congratulations to Danielle, it’s been an amazing fortnight and you’re back in the top 10 where you belong,” she added.
Collins, the World No 30, was clearly disappointed to have let her lead slip, but she was gracious and thankful in defeat, watched and encouraged by her boyfriend Joe Vollen in the player box.
After undergoing emergency surgery for endometriosis last year, and suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, Collins also alluded to facing physical issues earlier at AO 22.
A product of the US college system, Collins clearly enjoys Australia and will now move inside the top 10, a career high.
“Big congratulations to Ash on a formidable tournament, a formidable few years really,” said the emotional Collins. “It’s been tremendous to watch her climb the rankings all the way to No 1 and live out her dream.
“I really admire you, as the player you are, and the variety of your game. Hopefully I can implement some of that into mine.”
Barty had countered the 28-year-old’s power-hitting and big serves with her dizzying array of slices, pin-point serving, speed and a seamless forehand, but she had been given a major fright.
There were fears she might be overwhelmed by the weight of expectation, but the Australian has dealt with intense pressure before, none more so than at Wimbledon last year.
Winning at the All England Club was the one trophy she wanted more than any others, and she handled the occasion with aplomb.
She applied the same tactical acumen with the resurgent, pain-free Collins, who has enjoyed a new lease on life since her surgery last year, storming to her first 2 WTA titles and reaching the AO final.
This is Barty’s 15th career title, her 4th on home soil and 2nd in a row following her Adelaide triumph in the first week of 2022.
The World No 1 now has won 12 of her past 14 finals dating back to Miami 2019, with her only losses coming to Naomi Osaka at Beijing 2019 and Aryna Sabalenka at Madrid 2020.
The Barty Party at Melbourne Park is already in full swing and likely to go on for some time.