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Ash Barty honors hero Evonne Goolagong with best possible title: a seismic, drought-snapping Australian Open
Like Goolagong, she's won her three singles Slams in the same sequence: Roland Garros, Wimbledon, Australian Open.
Published Jan 29, 2022
INTERVIEW WITH THE CHAMPION: Ash Barty wins the Australian Open
The first three years of this decade at the Australian Open have been highlighted by a compelling and eclectic trio of women's champions—three players, three continents, three vastly different playing styles.
Two years ago, the winner was Sofia Kenin, a fiery American with a game that blended grit and guile. In 2021, power and precision were the cornerstones of Japanese star Naomi Osaka’s second title run Down Under. Now comes Ash Barty, the first Australian—man or woman—to win the Australian Open singles title since Chris O’Neil’s surprising run in 1978.
There’s no style quite like Barty’s. Her game is built on first-rate footwork and superb racquet skills that allow her to generate repeated disruptive sequences, combinations that probe for openings, sustain rallies and, once the time is right, end the point with either a forced error or winner.
"Ash adapts to who she's playing and moves the ball around—pinpointing her shots," her coach, Craig Tyzzer, said last year in a Sydney Morning Herald article. "It's won her lots of her matches."
Begin with Barty’s slice backhand. The underspin forces opponents to alter their contact point, driving the ball from a much lower position—and therefore, generating less pace than desired. This in turn gives Barty the chance to smack a forehand, be it crosscourt, inside-out or inside-in, with the reply. The slice-drive combo has the cumulative effect of keeping opponents off-balance and unable to maintain a desired swing tempo.
“There's not many girls out there that hit a slice backhand,” said Tyzzer this past Wednesday. “When you see who Ash has to play, you see them out there practicing someone hitting a slice backhand to them. It's probably a bit late the day before to try to get that right.”
Then comes the Barty serve, as technically proficient and accurate as any in tennis. The efficiency of Barty’s motion—a smooth, slow start, followed by a flawless toss and full-bodied swing—makes the shot deceptive, reliable and ruthless in its effectiveness, be it flat or kicked up high to the backhand. Though Barty serves her share of aces—ten in Saturday night’s final—as with the slice backhand, she once again is mostly using this shot less to close and more to construct.
Barty is also quite comfortable at the net. Growing up in a nation that puts a high value on collaboration, young Aussies such as Barty grew up playing plenty doubles versus a wide range of juniors and adults, in the process learning to navigate all parts of the court. Back in 2013, long before she blossomed as a singles player, Barty reached three Grand Slam doubles finals alongside fellow Aussie Casey Dellacqua. How terrific it was to see Dellacqua courtside this evening. Just after the match ended, the two celebrated on-court.
“Casey is my best mate,” said Barty. “She was right there, and I knew she was watching the match. I just wanted to give her a hug. She was one of the first people that I could see and give a hug to. I think she's done so much for me as a person, and not just after big wins. She's been there right from the start.”
And yet, for all the skills Barty brings, for all the camaraderie she enjoys with the likes of Tyzzer, Dellacqua and others, perhaps her greatest asset is in the temperament department. Patient? Not quite; rarely is Barty playing defense. Tranquility is the better word, Barty maintaining a peace both in between points and even during rallies that allows her to divorce herself from the emotional aspect that can distract a player from the task at hand.
To a great degree, this was what allowed Barty to rally from 1-5 down in the second set and eventually win the match over American Danielle Collins, 6-3, 7-6 (2). Consider Barty’s second set comeback less an emotional fight and more a calm, methodical aggregation of points.
“She's been really composed and enjoyed playing,” said Tyzzer following the final. “You know, like tonight we knew what the challenges were going to be, like Danielle can just blow you off the court at times. So she was looking forward to that challenge, 'Okay, how do I figure out how to beat this girl who can just hit you into the corners and hurt you every time you drop it short?'”
As Barty explained, “Once it was 1-5 down I just wanted to try and shift and be a little more aggressive, adjust a couple of things tactically just to get momentum if we went to a third.”
Fitting indeed that Barty was joined at the post-match ceremony by her compatriot, hero, and, at least to some degree, stylistic role model, seven-time major singles champion Evonne Goolagong.
“It's the first time I've seen her in 12 months,” said Barty. “We had a few hugs for a few different reasons, and to be able to actually see her in the flesh and chat to her was incredible.”
Like Barty, Goolagong was a versatile, elegant player, also graced with a sweet slice backhand, excellent volleys and a seemingly natural, effortless poise. Like Goolagong, and in the same order, Barty has won titles at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Australia (Goolagong never won the US Open, from 1973-’76 losing four straight finals).
To watch Barty play is to ponder player development in a new way. Head out to tennis facilities and you will likely see juniors striking one ball after another, a cacophony of drives repetitively struck deep and hard. Certainly, repetition is valuable for building discipline, focus, technique, stamina. But where in this model does there come time for point construction, for the range of speeds, spins and placements required to apply pressure through various situations over the course of a match?
As Barty’s formative coach, Jim Joyce, said last year, "You force a chip-slice backhand, then a quick switch to a volley—forcing her to practice her transition—and she would nail it.”
Said Barty this evening, “Ultimately that was one of the biggest challenges that Jim set out for me when I was young was to be a complete player and be really consistent across all surfaces and be able to play on all surfaces. So to have a Grand Slam title on each surface is pretty amazing.”
To hit the ball is one thing. But as Barty continually shows, to play the game is another.