For the most part all eyes were on Ash Barty at Rod Laver Arena — but that was before Steve Waugh and his ice-cream stole the show.
Not since George Costanza lathered himself in a chocolate sundae at the 1993 US Open has an ice-cream at the tennis caused such a stir.
Former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh was in the crowd to watch Ash Barty bulldoze her way into the Australian Open final with a 6-1 6-3 demolition of American Madison Keys on Thursday night and he liked what he saw.
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But for all the attention on Barty’s trademark slice backhand and ruthless killer instinct at Rod Laver Arena, the man known as the Ice Man in his playing days — famous for coining the term “mental disintegration” when it came to sledging opponents — managed to steal the spotlight for a brief moment.
At one stage TV cameras panned to Waugh and showed him tucking into an ice-cream — either a Cornetto or a Drumstick, by the looks of it — and after taking a bite and licking his lips, the great man gave a nod of approval.
The fact it was one of Australia’s most hard-nosed, uncompromising athletes caught in the act is why the internet, understandably, had so many jokes.
Sports reporter Steve Smith tweeted: “Steve Waugh spent several minutes mentally disintegrating that ice-cream before devouring it.”
AFL funnyman Titus O’Reilly wrote: “Even eating an ice-cream, Steve Waugh looks intense.”
Journalist Steve Taylor added: “Steve Waugh demolishing that ice-cream like a twin with a pesky younger brother.”
Former Hockeyroo Georgie Parker tweeted: “Waiting for someone to make Steve Waugh eating an ice-cream in to a GIF.”
Adam Liaw of MasterChef fame said: “Wimbledon has strawberries and cream, so the #AusOpen should have it’s own iconic food like a dim sim with barbecue sauce or something.
“All I’m saying is imagine if we had cut to Steve Waugh and he was hoeing into a bucket of saucy dim sims.”
Today presenter Karl Stefanovic was in stitches over the episode. “Who can blame Steve Waugh, one of our great cricket captains for his enthusiastic demolition of an ice cream which unfortunately was picked up by the cameras and has now gone viral,” he said, before burting into laughter.
“Having been at an NRL match and had 400 shots of me on the coverage eating pies, I kind of get it.”
Waugh will be hoping for another Barty win on Saturday night against Danielle Collins as she becomes the first Australian woman into the decider of her home grand slam since Wendy Turnbull in 1980, aiming to become the first local winner since Chris O’Neil two years earlier.
But the tenacious Collins stands in her way, with the 28-year-old American enjoying a second coming after surgery last year for endometriosis left her pain free.
Nine months on and she has 32-7 win-loss record, capturing her maiden WTA singles titles last year in Palermo then San Jose.
After making the semi-finals at Melbourne in 2019, she is now in a first slam final and will break into the top 10 for the first time to cap a remarkable comeback.
“To play against the number one player in the world in her home country, it’s going to be spectacular,” said Collins of the final. “I couldn’t be happier. It’s been such a journey, so many years of hard work.”
Barty, though, has been rampant so far, dropping serve just once through six matches and is yet to drop a set as she powered through the top half of the women’s draw.
She is also looking to add to her 2019 French Open and 2021 Wimbledon titles and is on a 10-match winning streak to start the year.
“To be in the finals weekend of your home grand slam is what a lot of Aussie players dream of. Yeah, it’s going to be an incredible experience come Saturday,” said Barty.
“Obviously I was able to make Maddie uncomfortable and make her press, and that was kind of part of the plan, as well. I felt like we did a really good job all in all of playing the match in kind of our terms.”
Barty paid tribute to Keys, a former top-10 player who is on the rise again after some difficult years.
“It’s just so nice to see her back where she belongs,” said Barty. “She’s an amazing human being.”