Ash Barty is not defending her Australian Open title, having resigned from the tour almost a year ago, but she is at Melbourne Park undertaking personal appearances and mentoring 20-year Olivia Gadecki, who is ranked 200 in the world.
I don't even think I can put it into words. I've dreamt about it my whole life, and to really live it is just a whole other feeling. The crowd was amazing today. I feel like in the past I've kind of kept to myself a bit. Today I just wanted to kind of let them in and really embrace the crowd. It's such a once-in-a-lifetime sort of moment. So I'm really thankful for the crowd. They got me over the line. Olivia Gadecki
It is the first time Australia has failed to have an automatic main draw or qualifying entrant into the women’s Australian Open, but Gadecki, the very first Aussie to hit the courts on Monday and playing in her very first Grand Slam, stunned 19-year-old qualifier Polina Kudermetova, 7-5 6-1, to make it into round 2 and wiping out fears that there would be no Australian women there for the first time in history.
20-year-old Gadecki’s career prize-money entering the tournament was $175,000 AUD, but her win on Monday guaranteed her at least $158,850, which is almost double her career total, in under 2 hours.
Gadecki wasted 3 break points midway through the first set, and needed 3 set points to finally seal a break and the first set, but it was a strong display of big-serving and powerful hitting, lashing down 4 aces and 10 winners in the process to see her through to the finish line.
She went to another level in the second, surging to a 6-1 rout in front of a small crowd on Court 8, and defending her first break point of the match at 4-1 up.
“I actually can’t believe it,” she said on-court. “I mean, wow. I’m speechless. Such an amazing crowd. Home slam, my first ever Grand Slam. A girl can only dream.”
Having missed last year’s Open due to not being Covid-19 vaccinated, she will now face a juicy 2nd-round opponent in Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, who beat American 28th seed Amanda Anisimova in a shock upset.
Her mentor, Barty, has revealed her next career move, forming a partnership with Tennis Australia that will see her mentor not only Gadecki but players and coaches from the governing body’s development pathway.
The Aussie champion is expecting her first child with husband Garry Kissick, but that does not mean she is leaving tennis forever.
“Supporting the next generation of tennis talent is something I am very passionate about,” said Barty, whose former coaches Craig Tyzzer and Jason Stoltenberg will also be involved in the program. “I’m so excited to be able to work with two people who have been instrumental in my career, Tyzz and Stolts, to give back to the sport I love.
“This is only the beginning of our partnership and we hope that, over time, we can make a positive difference to young Australian players.”
The arrangement will see Barty, Tyzzer and Stoltenberg passing their knowledge and experience on to players and coaches of all ages in the development pathway at events and training opportunities over the next 12 months.
“We are extremely excited to be able to work with Ash, Craig and Jason to utilise the depth and experience of one of our greatest tennis champions in our performance pathway,” TA Chief Strategy and Performance Officer Timothy Jolley said. “So many of our young players have been inspired by what Ash was able to achieve on court, and her work ethic, professionalism and way she conducted herself on court is something we hope we can instil within our performance environment.”
Barty has been helping Gadecki for several years, with the Queenslanders often sharing a hit together on the Gold Coast.
“I’ve been really fortunate to always be able to contact her if I have any questions or if I need advice, she’s always been there for me,” Gadecki told AAP in December. “The best part is she just treats me like a normal person, and we can relate in that regard and off court is just as important as on court.”
Gadecki said Barty’s experience of dealing with pressure and expectation from a young age is vital for her, as well as the three-time major winner’s professionalism.
“Just her application,” she added. “She’s just really good at being consistent with everything she goes about.”
Last year, Barty became the first Aussie to win the Australian Open in 44 years, beating Danielle Collins in the final.
While she will not be playing this year, she did return to Rod Laver Arena on Saturday for the Australian Open Kids’ Day, joining World No.1 Iga Swiatek, two-time champion Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, Nick Kyrgios, Sam Stosur, Storm Hunter and Heath Davidson on the court for some entertaining displays.
“This is unreal. I didn’t think I’d be back on this beautiful court so soon,” she said. “This is incredible, so much fun. It is very, very nice to be back.”
Barty added: “Excited to be back on the court that brought so many great memories. I often think of when I played on this court that there were so many kids here enjoying it.
“To look today, to see so many absolutely filling it, it’s brilliant. Hopefully we can have some fun.”
Earlier on Monday, Gadecki’s win came over the younger sister of top-10 star Veronika Kudermetova, who was in-form after qualifying for the main draw.
“I don’t even think I can put it into words,” beamed Gadecki after the match. “I’ve dreamt about it my whole life, and to really live it is just a whole other feeling.”
In a battle between two rising stars contesting their first Grand Slam main draws, it was World No 199 Gadecki who proved the most composed.
Opening play at Court 8, Gadecki calmly worked her way into the match against the World No 182, and after securing the first break in the 12th game, firing a backhand return winner, she clinch the opening set.
With the momentum in her favour, Gadecki charged home, winning 7 consecutive games to build a 5-0 lead, then closing out her win against the 19-year-old Kudermetova in 76 minutes.
“The crowd was amazing today,” Gadecki said. “I feel like in the past I’ve kind of kept to myself a bit. Today I just wanted to kind of let them in and really embrace the crowd.
“It’s such a once-in-a-lifetime sort of moment. So I’m really thankful for the crowd. They got me over the line.”
It marks Gadecki’s biggest win since upsetting World No 4 Sofia Kenin as an unranked wild-card during the Melbourne Summer Series in February 2021.
Her 2nd-round opponent will be World No 61 Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk, who eliminated 28th-seeded Amanda Anisimova from the USA in the opening round.
“It’s such a confidence booster making the second round of a Slam,” Gadecki said. “But I definitely believe that I can do more.”