Barty At Australian Open: ‘I’m Just Having Fun, To Be Honest’

Ashleigh Barty (photo: Luke Hemer / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 26, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 1 and top seed Ashleigh Barty has lost just 17 games through her first five matches in the Australian Open fortnight as she readies to play in her fourth Grand Slam semifinal on Thursday evening at Melbourne Park.

In Barty’s second semifinal at her home major, where she will face No. 51 Madison Keys of the United States on Rod Laver Arena, the Ipswich, Queensland native has kept her hopes alive to become the first Australian woman to win the Daphne Ackhurst Memorial Cup since Chris O’Neil won it in 1978.

Coupled with her title won in the first week of the 2022 season at the Adelaide International 1 tournament, Barty has strung together an impressive nine-match winning streak. Her trademark backhand slice and drop shots have kept her opponents off-balance and guessing, and Barty has been averaging about an hour on court for each of her five Australian Open matches, all won in straight sets.

In her quarterfinal win over No. 21 seed Jessica Pegula, Barty struck six aces and hit 10 winners to 20 unforced errors. She won 81 percent (22 of 27) of her first-serve points and saved the only break point she faced, which came early in the match. Barty outpointed Pegula 63-38.

“I’m just having fun, to be honest,” Barty said after her victory. “I’m having fun trying to problem solve out on the court, and each and every opponent has been different. Each and every opponent has presented me with a different challenge and forced me to use another tool in my toolbox.”

Pegula gave this description of Barty: “She does everything a little bit better than everybody.”

One thing is evident from watching Barty in action round by round: She loves to think for herself – loves to apply what she’s learned – and like a grandmaster in chess, she’s always thinking a shot or two ahead against her opponent on the court.

“So, I think being able to learn on the fly in a match is really important,” Barty said. “If there’s a shot or a pattern that’s hurting me and putting me under pressure, I try and figure out a way how to get out of that pattern before – and not necessarily just hit my way out, I try and think my way out a little bit more first – and then try and find a way where I can hurt them.”

During her post-match press conference following her victory against Pegula, the subject turned to Barty’s next opponent, Keys. Barty shared plenty of praise for the former World No. 7, who is 11-1 in the young season and has won 10 straight matches.

“Maddie is an exceptional athlete,” Barty said. “She has a great serve, great first strike off the return and off her first ball after her serve. A lot of the time, it’s about trying to put her in an uncomfortable position, try and get her off-balance, because if she controls the center of the court, the match is on her racquet.

“I need to be able to find a balance, problem solve my way through it, try and work out a way to nullify her strengths and bring it back to my patterns if I can, and understand it’s not always in my control. We accept that, move on, go again to the next point.”

Collins advances to second AO semifinal

Three years after her breakthrough Grand Slam run in Melbourne, 27th-seeded American Danielle Collins has reached the semifinals of the Australian Open with an impressive 7-5, 6-1 victory over No. 61 Alizé Cornet of France on Rod Laver Arena Wednesday afternoon.

Collins dominated the 88-minute match against unseeded Cornet, who was appearing in her first major quarterfinal in her 63rd career Grand Slam main draw after defeating former World No. 1 Simona Halep in the fourth round on Monday. Collins won 90 percent (28 of 31) of her first-serve points, hit 23 winners and broke Cornet four times. She outpointed her opponent 70-53 and lost her serve just once, in the opening set.

“It’s feels incredible, especially after some of the health challenges I’ve had and to be able to get back to this level and compete the way I have been and to be as physical as I have been,” Collins told Jelena Dokic during her on-court interview. “It’s been so rewarding, especially playing against good competitors and really great athletes and to compete against these women is an honor.”

Collins reached her first Melbourne semifinal in 2019 when she was ranked No. 35 and unseeded. It was during that run that she earned her first Top 5 when when she beat former Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber in the fourth round.

Fast forward, the 28-year-old Collins has gone 31-7 since returning to the Tour in July after undergoing surgery for endometriosis in April, including a 12-match winning streak and and titles at Palermo, Italy on clay and San Jose, Calif. on hard court.

Next, Collins will face No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, who defeated No. 115 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3. The women’s semifinals are scheduled for Rod Laver Arena on Thursday evening.

Around Melbourne Park

Angella Okotuyi: History making and inspiring

That Australian atmosphere: Day Nine memories

Starring Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, Ashleigh Barty and Dylan Alcott.

Dylan Alcott: 2022 Australian of the Year

On Tuesday, Dylan Alcott was named Australian of the Year and awarded an Officer of the Order (AO) in the Australia Day Honours List for distinguished service to Paralympic sport, particularly to tennis, and as a role model for people with a disability, and the community through a range of organizations.

“We are incredibly fortunate Dylan chose tennis as we’ve had the opportunity to see first-hand his great sense of humor, sharp intellect and his incredible work ethic and drive to succeed in all aspects of life,” Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said.

Ashleigh Barty: On hitting slice

Following her quarterfinal win Tuesday evening, top seed Ashleigh Barty was asked in her press conference to describe how her slice compared to Roger Federer’s.

Jannik Sinner: Makes a new friend during on-court interview

During an on-court interview following his fourth-round victory over Alex de Minaur on Monday, a butterfly landed on top of Jannik Sinner’s ball cap. He made a new friend.

Sania Mirza: Plays her final match at the Australian Open

Two-time Australian Open doubles champion Sania Mirza of India played her final match in Melbourne on Tuesday. Earlier, she announced she would retire at the end of the 2022 season.

Matteo Berrettini: History maker

With his five-set quarterfinal victory over Gaël Monfils Tuesday evening, Matteo Berrettini became the first Italian man to reach to Australian Open semifinals.

Barbora Krejcikova: Two truths and a lie

This week, the WTA has been sharing a series of light and humorous videos featuring some of its star players playing a game of “Two truths and a lie.” The results have been quite revealing.

Wednesday’s Australian Open results 

Thursday’s Australian Open order of play

What they’re writing

• Kurt Streeter, The New York Times, “Is Tennis Moving Into a New Golden Age? We Can Only Hope So”

• Tumaini Carayol, The Guardian of London, “Nadal survives five-setter as Shapovalov claims officials ‘100%’ favour top players”

By the numbers

Iga Swiatek of Poland is the first Polish woman to appear in an Australian Open quarterfinal since Agnieszka Radwanska in 2016. She has also reached the fourth round or better at her past six Grand Slam events.

• At 36 years, 234 days old, Kaia Kanepi of Estonia is the fifth-oldest woman to reach a quarterfinal at the Australian Open in the Open Era (since 1968).

• With Rafael Nadal’s five-set quarterfinal victory over Denis Shapovalov on Tuesday, his quarterfinal-round win-loss record at the Australian Open is leveled at 7-7. By comparison, he’s 14-1 in French Open quarterfinals.

“Quotable …”

“All the time in my career I never made the good decision. I must say I’m very fine with that, but I believe I can click once. Before I finish, I believe that once I will do it. So that’s my faith.”

Gaël Monfils of France, following his 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2 loss to Matteo Berrettini in the men’s singles quarterfinals on Tuesday night.

What they’re sharing on social media

Simona Halep / Australia, you were beautiful.