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Ash Barty is starting to build a Serena Williams style aura of dominance after surging into her first Australian Open final in all-conquering fashion.
While the two-time major winner still has a long way to come close to Serena’s 20 grand slam titles, the world No.1 has exuded all-round control throughout this year’s tournament at Melbourne Park.
Still yet to drop a set in her six matches, Barty showed no mercy in her 6-1 6-3 victory over unseeded American Madison Keys, who had been riding high after coming off a straight-sets upset of Czech fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova.
The 26-year-old world No.51 is no slouch – she was making her second appearance in a semi at Melbourne Park after first achieving the feat as a teenager in 2015 before she was eliminated by the eventual champion, none other than Serena Williams.
Barty’s taken the mantle from Serena as the undisputed queen of tennis, finishing as the top-ranked player for three straight years, joining all-time greats Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and, of course, Williams as the only women to achieve the feat.
The Queenslander on Saturday night will be bidding to become the first home-grown women’s singles champion since Chris O’Neil in 1978. Wendy Turnbull two years later was the only Australian woman to make the final since O’Neil lifted the trophy on the grassed Kooyong centre court.
She will face 27th-seeded American Danielle Collins, who surprised Polish seventh seed Iga Swiatek 6-4 6-1 in the second of the two Rod Laver Arena matches for the night. It will be Collins’ first appearance in a grand slam final.
“It’s unreal. Honestly it’s just incredible,” Barty said when asked about the decades-long droughts. “I love this tournament and I love coming out here and playing in Australia. As an Aussie we’re exceptionally spoilt as a grand slam nation. We get to play at home in our backyard.
“I’m just happy I get to play my best tennis here. I enjoy it, we’ve done well before and now we get a chance to play for a title, it’s unreal.”
Fittingly after the women’s Ashes Test got under way in Canberra earlier in the day, Barty warmed up for her clash with a hit of cricket in the Melbourne Park corridor, the one-time Brisbane Heat WBBL player using her tennis bag as the stumps.
And in cricket parlance she took an early wicket, breaking Keys’ serve in the first game of the match to be 1-0 before the very first changeover with former Test captain Steve Waugh one of the many Barty partygoers cheering her on from the stands.
Keys held her next serve but crumbled under the pressure exerted by the Australian, coughing up a couple of unforced errors after being 30-30.
Even when Barty had a nervous moment down a break point at 4-1, there was an air of inevitability that the local favourite would prevail. And she did.
The finishing touch to the opening set ????
???????? @ashbarty draws first blood against Madison Keys, taking the first set 6-1.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2022
Then just like Serena would do in her prime, Barty gave her opponent nothing but grief, breaking her serve yet again to take the first set 6-1 in just 26 minutes.
Keys looked shell-shocked because she was barely competitive despite the fact she wasn’t playing that poorly. She had landed 78% of her first serves in the opening set but despite such a high strike rate, she only won half those points such was the strength of Barty’s impressive returns.
Barty was actually landing less than half of her first serves but won 78% of them as well as 73% of her second-serve points while also converting all three of her break points from as many attempts.
Keys managed to stay in the arm wrestle for the first half of the second set, going for winners and landing deep shots in rallies to stem the one-sided carnage from Barty’s side of the net.
Trailing 3-2, any further breaks for Keys would snap her chances altogether and when Barty took her serve down for a fourth time for the match to all but seal her win.
Barty did not look back from there to wrap it up in 62 minutes and is now just one win away from ending a 44-year hooodoo for Australian women at their home grand slam.
With local players in the final of the women’s singles, mixed doubles and men’s doubles, it’s a golden summer for tennis Down Under, topped off by Dylan Alcott being named Australian of the year.
Barty said she was in tears watching Alcott’s acceptance speech after he lost his farewell match before retirement to world No.2 Sam Schroder 7-5, 6-0 in the men’s singles quad wheelchair final.
When asked how proud she was to be part of all the home-grown success, Barty said: “Incredibly so. I think, honestly for me, Dylan is at the forefront of that, he’s inspired a nation, he’s inspired the whole globe.
“We were watching his match today and I was with my physio about an hour before coming out and when he was saying his acceptance speech we were both crying and I was like, I need to get out here, get ready and get the game on.
“You look around and the way that he and the Australian Open have worked together to open up the opportunities for more disabled people all around the world to play tennis and to have a go, it’s just exceptional. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”