Australia expects: Ashleigh Barty eyes history at Melbourne grand slam

Home favourite will face Danielle Collins in the Australian Open final 

Ashleigh Barty celebrates her Australian Open semi-final victory over Madison Keys
Ashleigh Barty celebrates her semi-final victory over Madison Keys
(Image credit: TPN/Getty Images)

Ashleigh Barty, the world No.1 women’s tennis player, has become the first Australian in 42 years to reach the women’s singles final of the Australian Open grand slam. In the semi-final, the 25-year-old was too strong for Madison Keys, winning 6-1, 6-3 in straight sets, and will now face 27th seed Danielle Collins in the showpiece Melbourne match.

Top seed Barty, a two-time grand slam champion, is just “one win away from becoming the first Australian – man or woman – to win the singles since Christine O’Neil won the title in 1978”, the BBC said. This year so far she has “looked unstoppable and unburdened by the weight of Australian expectation”.

Barty picked up her 14th career title and third on home soil in Adelaide three weeks ago and is now on a ten-match winning streak, the WTA said. After her 62-minute victory on Rod Laver Arena, the Queenslander said: “It’s just unreal – as an Aussie we are spoiled that we are a Grand Slam nation, and now we have a chance to play for a title.”

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Cricket ‘set things right’

Barty’s rise to the top of women’s tennis is an “incredible story”, said the Daily Mail. After picking up a racquet at the age of four, her talent “was obvious” and she quickly competed against older children. However, after going overseas to play international competitions when she was 14, the schedule “became too much and the teenager found herself overwhelmed”.

In 2014 she “walked away from a promising tennis career”, Fox Sports said. Barty revealed she got “twisted” and quit tennis to be with the people who loved her. “I think I just needed to find myself a little bit,” she said. “I felt like I got twisted and maybe a little bit lost along the way in the first part of my career, just within myself mentally and what I wanted to do.”

Turning her attention to cricket, Barty earned a contract with the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League. After all the “media attention, pressure and depression” as a ​​dazzling tennis prodigy, the stint playing cricket “set things right”, The Guardian said.

Barty’s positive impact

Returning to tennis in 2016, Barty has gone on to win the French Open and WTA Finals in 2019 and is the reigning Wimbledon champion. On Saturday, she will have the whole of Australia supporting her bid for more grand slam glory.

Former British No.1 Tim Henman believes the support from the home crowd has acted as a catalyst to fuel her run to the final, SportsKeeda reported. “Ashleigh Barty is so popular [here in Australia],” Henman said on Eurosport. “I also think it is great that we had some negative stories before this event started. Now we’ve got so many positive stories at the end and I think it has been led by Barty.”

One Australian who will definitely be watching – and supporting Barty – is tennis legend Laver. On Twitter, the 11-time grand slam winner praised his fellow Australian and backed her to beat Collins on the centre court that bears his name. “Congratulations on another outstanding performance @AshBarty,” he tweeted. “I know you can go all the way.”

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.