Australian Open 2022: Ash Barty continues seamless progress to become first home finalist in 42 years

Collins is all business in dominant win over Swiatek to reach first Major final

Ash Barty
Ash Barty (Photo: Tennis Australia / Luke Hemer)

The task for world No51 Madison Keys was a monumental one. She would take on Ashleigh Barty, who arrived in Melbourne with 112 weeks clocked up as No1, as reigning Wimbledon champion, and already with the Adelaide title this year. She had dropped only 17 games in her five matches so far, and had guaranteed her stay at No1 with her quarter-final win.

It was not as though Barty had avoided the seeds on her way to the semis, and had also taken out one of the form players on the tour, Amanda Anisimova. But Barty’s craft, her fitness and speed, her tactical nous and the variety she brings to a tennis court made her progress look near effortless.

Stir into the mix that Barty has long been the darling of Australia, and the head of steam generated by the fans in Melbourne was a thundering presence for any opposition—though thus far, it seemed, a burden carried lightly by the world world No1.

So Keys, unseeded but a former No7, knew what she faced. However, the American, a runner-up at the US Open in 2017, had regained a rich vein of form after opening 2022 with the other Adelaide title two weeks ago. Injury had interrupted her expected progress after a breakthrough run as a teenager to the semis at the Australian Open in 2015, but her run in Melbourne this time confirmed what a dangerous she still was.

First she beat former champion Sofia Kenin, then No6 Paula Badosa, and finally world No4 and French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova. Keys dropped only nine games combined against those final two players.

But as she had throughout the tournament, Barty showed just why she is the world No1 in a stunning and dominant display. She had all her weapons on show from the start of the match, taking Keys to an immediate deuce and then a first break point. Her cross-court forehand was the star of the opening game, and a whipped winner got the break.

The Australian, one of the shorter women at the top of the women’s game, then showed just what a fine server she is, too, swinging her delivery wide, slotting it central, and holding to love.

Keys’ outstanding strength is her serve, and it began to swing more freely to get on the board in the third game, but once again, Barty held to love, and then broke again, 4-1, drawing errors into the bargain. It was, thus far, a masterclass of variety, changes of direction and spin, a calm and business-like performance.

Barty faced her first test in the next game, though, with Keys stepping in to threaten with her intimidating ground strokes, and a couple of rare errors gave the American her first break point. A timely ace by the Australian, though, and she headed to a 5-1 lead, and broke down Keys with her destructive slice and angles to take the set, 6-1.

It had taken just 26 minutes, and Barty had out-aced and out-winnered the big-hitting game of Keys.

The American showed all her resolve to come back from 0-30 in her opening game of the second set, stringing four points to hold. But Barty had her on a piece of string, and she replied with a love hold for a 2-1 lead.

Keys had to dig deep to hold a five-minute fourth game, but she did, and for the first time, Barty looked a little tight, faced a break point, but found the winner when it counted. With her hold asserted, she broke, and consolidating with a love hold, 5-2.

Faced with defeat, Keys produced some winners of her own, including her signature running forehand pass. Barty would have to serve it out, as purple storm clouds gathered over the Rod Laver Arena. Could the home favourite finish this in a timely fashion?

It was a resounding yes, as she dropped just one point, and closed things out with a net winner, 6-3, her 20th winner of the match. It had taken her just 62 minutes.

The two women embraced warmly at the net: Keys is one of the most popular women on the tour, as Barty was quick to confirm:

“She’s a great person… You see the way she carries herself on the court. She looks you in the eye, gives you a good handshake and that’s what I love about her… It’s just so nice to see her back where she belongs.”

Thus far, Barty has taken the weight of Australian fans in her stride, and she has now become the first home-grown player to reach the women’s final in 42 years. Next, she is bidding to become the first Australian—man or woman—to win the singles title since Christine O’Neil in 1978.

And Barty will face a truly formidable hitter of the ball in the resurgent powerhouse that is Danielle Collins, seeded 27. Now age 28, the American reached the Australian semis in 2019, and after considerable ill health, she was now aiming to go one step further less than a year after surgery for endometriosis. And since that surgery, and a ranking low last July of 49, she had won to titles, made two more semis, and won all three singles rubbers in the Billie Jean Cup in November.

Both she and her No7 opponent, Iga Swiatek, had spent more than nine hours on court to reach the semis, and both had come back from a set down twice. Swiatek’s credentials were certainly the better on paper. However, her biggest victory was winning the title on the clay of Roland Garros, but this was the Pole’s best Australian run so far. And she was up against it from the off in the face of big-time, first-strike baseline tennis from a determined Collins.

The American Collins pummelled her way through the Swiatek serve in the first few games, breaking in the first and third, and holding with relative ease on her own deliveries. Unable to win a point on her second serve, the Pole had greater pressure on her first serve, but she at last got on the board, 4-1.

Now 20-year-old Pole needed to find some traction on the Collins serve, and that was easier said than done, but she is a smart player with plenty of resources on her racket. And so the Pole worked a first break point by repeatedly thumping wide to the American’s forehand, and was granted another chance by a first double fault from Collins. A forehand winner by Swiatek, and she had one break back.

However, Collins got Swiatek on the back foot again, and broke again: She would serve for the set, and was well on her way with two aces. However, the Pole mixed things up with a deft net finish, and two double faults from Collins conceded another break. Swiatek was still up against it, though pulled back from 15-30 down to hold, but she was unable to break again. Collins aced twice, and pounded to the hold, 6-4.

The assault continued in the second, an immediate break by Collins, three winners to the good, and forcing Swiatek to go for more on her serves and on her forehand. The Pole showed her first sign of frustration after failing to make any inroads in a love hold by Collins, and it was indeed hard to see where she could break down an opponent who was stepping in, taking the ball on the rise, and timing her strikes with crisp power.

Another outright winner, her 19th of the match, and she broke the Pole to love, 3-0. Swiatek finally scored a hold, but this match was racing away, with Collins looking more determined and deadly with every game. Second-serve aces made it worse, a swift hold for 5-1, and a blistering return-of-serve winner brought up two match points. Collins converted the second, 6-1—and celebrated as though it had been a mere Sunday-afternoon hit in the park.

The American said in her on-court interview: “I couldn’t be happier” though still it did not show on her face. She was deadpan, full of intent. She did not say it, but her expression told the story: Her job was not yet done—even though she is now guaranteed to break the top 10 next week for the first time.

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