HomeAustraliaOne to go: Barty on the cusp of history

One to go: Barty on the cusp of history

First came the 2019 French Open, a surprise even to Ash Barty herself. Next there was last year’s Wimbledon, which she openly set herself to win and dedicated to her inspiration, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley.

Now Barty is one win away from winning the Australian Open, and cannot help but be aware that this time she is playing for her country and for the good cheer of all her compatriots who have tried in the 44 years since an Australian last won their home championship, so long ago that Melbourne Park wasn’t even a twinkle in John Cain’s eye.

Ash Barty was too good for Madison Keys in their semi-final.Credit:Eddie Jim

It’s a big responsibility, and will weigh more with each passing hour until she takes to Rod Laver arena on Saturday night. While waiting, she won’t want to look out of the window. By nightfall, Australia will be metaphorically hanging from the rafters.

But one of Barty’s trademarks is the way she takes everything in her stride. In the hyper environment of professional tennis, her lack of pretension and affectation stands out. She would probably settle for the “best clubman” trophy on Saturday night.

It’s a deception. Whatever else Barty is, she’s not ordinary. Her true trademark is the smoothness of her craft at tennis, a maddening game for mortals. If you don’t think so, ask American Madison Keys, a one-time US Open finalist who was made to look like an amateur by Barty in Friday night’s semi-final. It lasted an hour, par for Barty in this tournament.

Like a well-disguised drop shot, Barty and her game crept up on us. Barty does not have the physical presence of Serena Williams. She doesn’t make a fuss on court, nor court the limelight off it.

Ash Barty is one win away from winning the Australian Open.

Ash Barty is one win away from winning the Australian Open.Credit:Eddie Jim

When she won the French, it might have been thought that she got an agreeable fall of the cards. But in an era of great flux in women’s tennis, she became No.1 soon afterwards and with a little protection because COVID disruptions have been there pretty much ever since. Rather than queen, she would see herself as first among equals.

She is still improving, still streamlining her game. She is fitter than she has ever been, and her serve is the most effective on the women’s tour. It was impregnable again on Friday night. She does everything else at least as well as her opponents, and one thing better than them all. Commentator and majors winner Jim Courier reckons she does it as well as Roger Federer.

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