Ash Barty looked unstoppable in the Australian Open final, but the match has been turned on its head in dramatic fashion.
Ash Barty has a country on her shoulders as she hopes to become the first Aussie woman in 44 years to win the Australian Open.
The World No. 1 has been a force at Melbourne Park, blowing away everything in her path to become the first Aussie to make the women’s singles final since 1980.
The 25-year-old faces feisty American Danielle Collins in the final, which has begun in thrilling fashion.
Barty wrapped up the first set 6-3 in less than 35 minutes.
‘This is dangerous’: Barty gets angry
Ash Barty has roared back to be on level terms at 5-5 in the second set after finding herself down a double break.
Barty had been one set away from becoming an Australian Open champion after she took the first set without really needing to get out of second gear.
However, that all changed in the second set when Collins was fired up by the Aussie crowd cheering against her.
She had Barty visibly frustrated when secured a double break.
Barty was motioning to her players box during a change of ends and was waving her hands around with an angry expression on her face.
“This is dangerous,” Aussie great Jelena Dokic said on Channel 9.
“Danielle Collins she is to me a lilt bit like (Daniil) Medvedev. She feeds off the crowd energy. Even if they are not going for her. She uses it in a way that fires her up. So this is very, very dangerous when Danielle Collins gets like that. Which is what we’re seeing now.”
However, Barty dug deep and fought back to break Collins’ serve twice.
Then it was Collins who lost her cool in getting upset about sections of the Australian crowd appearing to yell in the middle of her service motion.
Barty had been clinical in capturing the first set.
Barty defended break points in the previous game and then landed a sucker punch to break Collins’ serve on the her first break point of the match.
Collins coughed up the break with a wild double fault that landed around 2m beyond the service box.
Tennis commentator Sam Smith said on TV Collins looked overcome by the magnitude of the occasion.
“She is strangely subdued. That is a surprise.”
Barty at the other end, was flawless.
She was even spotted smiling as she served for the set when gawking at a funny moment courtside.
Barty had a brief chuckle when she watched a member of the crowd take a nice catch when Collins sprayed a shot wide.
Cameras show Collins giving Barty cold shoulder
Behind the scenes cameras have captured the moment Danielle Collins appeared to ignore Ash Barty as the crossed paths inside Rod Laver Arena moments before they walked out onto court.
Video shows the pair did not stop as they walked towards each other. Collins’ head did not even change direction as Barty walked past.
Channel 9 presenter James Bracey light-heartedly suggested Collins had snubbed Barty’s greeting.
“I reckon Ash went for the ‘hello’ and she (Collins) has given it the straight 180,” he said.
However, Aussie great Casey Dellacqua said there was nothing in the exchange.
“You are not going to say anything in those moments,” she said.
“The players, they’re in the same locker room. They share the same locker room. They share the same space in so many ways. So Ash is obviously going off to get ready. So is Danielle. Nothing in that.”
‘Ash is oblivious’: Barty’s telling late change
Ash Barty has made the surprise move of making her final training session closed to fans and media.
She is wrestling with more pressure than at any time in her career, but has been adamant this week she is embracing the challenge, while keeping everything on and off the court as normal as possible.
She was no longer able to do that early on Saturday with close friend Casey Dellacqua revealing Barty locked out the world when she stepped onto a practice court with coach Craig Tyzzer.
Dellacqua said on Channel 9: “Ash is having a closed training session today. Just to keep you out”.
She said Barty may even be “a little bit oblivious” to the fact the entire country has been captivated by her quest for the Aussie Open crown.
Fellow TV commentator Sam Smith said Barty’s decision to move her practice session was a “good idea”.
“She’s the World No. 1, the top seed, it’s in Australia, and it’s a Grand Slam final. That’s like the trifecta of pressure, isn’t it,” she said.
“Why not keep as much out as possible. I think what we’ve learnt from Ash since she’s come back… she’s much older, confident, mature, and she’s very clear about what she wants and she needs.”
Barty has previously been happy to conduct all her training sessions in full view of the public.
Protestors arrive before Barty final
Activist groups have made good on their promise to take over the Australian Open to raise awareness for their ‘Where is Peng Shuai’ movement.
A number of activists were spotted outside Melbourne Park, claiming to be handing out up to 1000 T-shirts with the “Where is Peng Shuai?” slogan printed on the front.
Spectators wearing T-shirts which read, ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ were asked to remove them before Victoria Police were called to deal with the matter in the first week of the tournament.
Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, sparked worldwide fears when she “disappeared” after making allegations of sexual abuse against a former top-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party.
Women’s singles final preview
World number one Ashleigh Barty will look to become the first Australian woman for 44 years to win her home Grand Slam Saturday, but to do it she needs to get past a rejuvenated Danielle Collins in the form of her life.
American Collins faces a daunting task in the women’s singles final on Rod Laver Arena in front of Barty’s fiercely partisan Australian Open crowd. But the resurgent American is ready to tackle the top seed, and clear favourite.
Collins was in “the zone” and almost flawless as she pummelled Polish seventh seed Iga Swiatek into submission in the semi-final.
Now the 28-year-old knows if she can find the same sweet spot on Saturday that she has a huge chance.
“I think for me when I have a really clear idea of my tactics and what I want to do, it’s easier for me to get there,” said the 27th seed, who is playing pain-free in Melbourne for the first time in years after emergency surgery last April for endometriosis.
“But then, you know, just like any other athlete and I think all of us on tour, you know, we have days where we try to get in the zone and we can’t.” The big-hitting Collins will need to bring more than just raw power to counter the tactical nous of Barty, who has been rampant so far, winning 20 of 21 sets this year.
As Jessica Pegula put it after losing to the Australian in the quarter-finals: “I think she’s definitely living in everyone’s head a little bit.” Collins has pushed Barty hard in their previous four matches, winning their last encounter in Adelaide 12 months ago in straight sets.
As well as feeling the weight of Collins’ fearsome groundstrokes, Barty could also buckle under the expectation at her home Slam.
She is the first Australian woman into the decider in Melbourne since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 and is aiming to become the first winner since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
The two-time Grand Slam champion — at the 2019 French Open and Wimbledon in 2021 — appears relaxed and ready to accept the extra pressure.
“I’m able to switch off when I’m not here on site and that makes the time when we are on site more enjoyable, more special, and then we switch on and get ready to go,” said Barty.
A talented Australian multi-sportswoman who also played professional cricket, Barty has demonstrated her ability to “problem-solve” while on court, a trait she has worked on with coach Craig Tyzzer.
That will again come into play against Collins, who is not just one of the game’s hardest hitters, but also one of its most passionate and emotional characters in stark contrast to the unflappable Barty who it seems barely sweats.
“It’s going to be a challenge for me to try and neutralise as best that I can,” said Barty.
“I think the challenge is going to be trying to get her off-balance.”
— with AFP