A local winner of a Grand Slam is great for the tournament in terms of ticket sales, viewers on the TV and to bring the young ones to pick up the racquet. Mary Pierce is the only French woman to win the Roland Garros crown in over 50 years; no British woman has won at Wimbledon since 1977 when Virginia Wade lifted the title and now it is on Ashleigh Barty to end Aussie wait at Australian Open.
She came into the Melbourne Park with a quest to end the 42-year wait and is now within two wins of doing just that. Her 7-6, 6-2 win over Petra Kvitova on Tuesday highlighted her abilities and gave her title credentials a real push. She is the first Aussie - male or female - to reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005. And Barty is the first Australian woman to reach the semi-finals at Melbourne Park since Wendy Turnbull in 1984.
A year ago, at this same stage in the tournament, Barty was thrashed and swept aside with utter ease by eventual finalist Kvitova. But a lot has happened since. 23-year-old Barty is now a Roland Garros champion, a former World No 1 and has well and truly taken over from Sam Stosur and carries home hopes across the board. Due respect to Alex de Minaur, Nick Kyrgios, John Millman and the rest but no one looks coming close to winning a Slam for Australia anywhere.
"It's been absolutely incredible. I knew that I had to bring my best today against Petra, and that first set was crucial," said Barty.
The first set against two-time Wimbledon winner Kvitova went all the way and needed Barty to be at her absolute best while riding on home support on Rod Laver Arena. She fought off five break points in the eighth game of the match.
With neither player able to break their way through on break point opportunities, the match went to a tiebreak where a shanked forehand long-handed 'Ash' the first set in 69 minutes.
The reaction to the set decided the tone for what was to come next: Barty, always down to earth and incredibly polite throughout, clenched her fist as the home crowd roared. Kvitova, meanwhile, tossed her racquet into the air.
Just over half an hour later, following back-to-back breaks and another in the seventh game, Barty sealed the deal as the sun beat down in Melbourne. It took saving two break points before twin aces got the job done and a matchup against Sofia Kenin was set. The American, who beat Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-4, will be making her maiden Slam semi-finals.
Home crowd can be a boon as well as a bane. It can result in undue, added pressure or it can be a booster to get out of a messy situation. At the Fed Cup final in Perth against France, Barty couldn't contain the pressure of home crowd and surprisingly lost to Kristina Mladenovic in the singles and then in the decisive doubles alongside Stosur. On the other side, there have been numerous situations where a home crowd or loud support can push players on: Just ask the Greeks and Cypriots in Melbourne.
For Ash, the challenge is not just about what has happened in the past but also what comes next, for her personally and for Australia. “Year in, year out, it’s about trying to be consistent every single match, trying to be present every single match, not thinking about what’s happened before, not thinking about what’s to come. It’s just about trying to do the best you can on that given day," she had said this past week.
"No offence, not having to chat to you guys every day would be pretty good."
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 28, 2020
“Look, we’re all human,” she added. “We’re not going to be 100 percent every single day. We’re not going to win every single time. All you can try and do is put your best foot forward, regardless of you’re playing in Australia or all around the world.”
The 2020 Young Australian of the Year has had a rollercoaster ride thus far. She fought back from a set down to beat Lesia Tsurenko in the opening round, then comfortably saw off Polona Hercog before delivering a third-round masterclass against a dangerous Elena Rybakina. In the third, she had to survive Alison Riske's fightback before making it four straight wins against Kvitova, thus levelling their head-to-head at 4-4.
"I'd just prefer to be sitting at home just living my quiet, little life. No offence but not chatting to you guys everyday would be pretty good! I feel like I have nothing to say and I'm talking in circles a little bit. But it's part of the journey that I've hated and love it so it is all in good fun," said Barty in the post-match press conference.
Barty can keep the bout of happy press interactions going for two more days, at least, for Australia's sake and she won't mind it one bit.
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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2020 14:08:00 IST