MELBOURNE (REUTERS, AFP) - Local favourite Ashleigh Barty said her dream came true after she ended Australia’s 44-year wait for a home winner at the Australian Open by beating American Danielle Collins 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) in the final on Saturday (Jan 29).
The world No. 1 staved off a fightback from Collins to pick up her third Grand Slam title, thus becoming the first Australian to win the event since Chris O’Neil captured the women’s title in 1978.
Barty was 5-1 down in the second set but came storming back to win on a tiebreak and sweep past the 27th seed in front of an expectant Rod Laver Arena crowd.
The last Australian woman to reach the final was Wendy Turnbull in 1980.
It was a third Slam title for the 25-year-old after her breakthrough French Open success in 2019 and Wimbledon last year, joining Serena Williams as the only active players to win majors on all three surfaces.
“It’s a dream come true for me and I’m just so proud to be an Aussie,” said Barty.
“As an Aussie the most important part of this tournament is being able to share it with so many people and you guys in the crowd have been nothing shy of exceptional.
“You relaxed me and forced me to play my best tennis against a champion like Danielle. I knew I absolutely had to bring that today.
“And congratulations to Danielle, it’s been an amazing fortnight and you’re back in the top 10 where you belong,” she added.
O’Neil was present in the stands cheering as the crowd erupted when Barty converted her first match point with a forehand crosscourt winner.
The 65-year-old told reporters before the match: “I’m probably her biggest fan. I’d be happy to hand it over to her because she’s so deserving of it.
“She is an absolute thinker, she’s a craftsperson, a bit like a chess player with how she constructs the points.”
Tennis great Rod Laver and pop princess Kylie Minogue led the tributes, with the 83-year-old, who was courtside, calling Barty “the complete player”.
“A Grand Slam champion on three different surfaces, you are the complete player @AshBarty and I am so happy for you tonight,” he tweeted.
“There’s nothing like winning at home, congratulations #AO2022 champion, it is wonderful to be here for this moment and to celebrate with Australia.”
Influential 12-time Grand Slam winner Bille Jean King also sung her praises.
“What a special day for Australia! Congratulations @ashbarty!” she tweeted.
The easy-going Barty is popular figure in the locker and plenty of current players were also quick to offer praise, including former world No. 1 Simona Halep.
“Huge congrats to my friend @ashbarty. Amazing performance! Sooo happy to see you with that trophy,” she said, while two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka said there was “no better tennis player at the moment”.
Even Minogue was glued to the screen watching Barty make history.
“Wow!!! #BARTYPARTY. HUGE congrats to @ashbarty Such and inspiration. LEGEND!!!,” she tweeted.
There were fears Barty might be overwhelmed by the weight of expectation, but the Australian has dealt with intense pressure before, none more so than at Wimbledon last year.
Winning at the All England Club was the one trophy she wanted more than any others, and she handled the occasion with aplomb.
She applied the same tactical acumen with the resurgent Collins, who has enjoyed a new lease of life after surgery last year for endometriosis left her pain free, storming to her first two WTA titles.
She countered the 28-year-old’s power-hitting and big serves with her dizzying array of slices, pinpoint serving, speed and a seamless forehand, but she had a major fright.
Both players comfortably held their early service games, offering few chances as they got a feel for each other.
But Collins was employing her powerful groundstrokes and they were causing trouble.
She worked the first deuce with Barty serving at 2-2 and a wayward forehand handed her the opening break point of the night.
The Australian, though, held firm and served out with an ace.
She then stepped up a gear and put pressure on the Collins serve to earn her first break point with a net volley, and the American double faulted under pressure to go 4-2 behind.
With the crowd roaring her on, Barty raced home 6-3 in 32 minutes.
But Collins was not done and came storming back, breaking Barty for 2-0 in the second set – a fate the Australian has suffered just once before this tournament.
Collins fended off two break points to hold serve and while Barty made a statement by winning her next service game to love the American was pumped up and broke again for 5-1 as the top seed sent down two double faults.
Barty was in deep trouble but incredibly found a way back, breaking for 2-5 with some crisp winners then breaking again for 4-5 as Collins floundered serving for the set.
She forced a tiebreak and was always in charge to collect her fourth victory in five encounters with Collins and make history for Australia.
There was more joy in the evening, as the “Special Ks” show ended on a high after Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis lifted the men’s doubles titles by defeating compatriots Max Purcell and Matt Ebden in the final.
Kyrgios and Kokkinakis, nicknamed the “Special Ks” as juniors, entertained the crowd with a 7-5, 6-4 victory under the lights.
It was a first doubles triumph for the pair at a Grand Slam and they also became the first wildcard team to win the Australian Open men’s doubles title in the professional era.
A backhand from Kokkinakis sealed the first break of the match in the 11th game and the duo closed out the opening set on their service game as the fans imitated Cristiano Ronaldo’s famous “Siuuu!” goal celebration to cheer the duo.
The duo took a 4-3 lead in the second set after breaking to love before they had a match point denied by their opponents at 5-4.
The pair finally wrapped up the match on serve, with Kyrgios blasting two aces as they won the contest in 95 minutes.
They enjoyed a dream run at the tournament, where they stunned top seeds Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic of Croatia in the second round.