This was Ashleigh Barty’s time, and the Australian hero seemed to know it.
Rarely can the weight of a nation's expectation have been worn so apparently lightly. Ash smiled her way to a third Grand Slam title that looked probable from the first shots the 25-year-old hit on Rod Laver Arena two weeks ago.
Beating Danielle Collins 6-3, 7-6 in Saturday’s final made Barty Australia’s first home singles champion, male or female, for 44 years. Prior to Chris O'Neil's victory in 1978, there had only been one year in the history of the tournament when neither trophy had gone to an Australian.
Yet Barty knows all about pressure. It has been on her since she won the Wimbledon junior title and made her senior Australian Open debut aged only 15. She felt burnt out while still a teenager and stepped away from the sport, enjoying living a normal life and trying her hand at professional cricket.
But gradually the pull of the fuzzy yellow ball returned and by 2016 she was back in the game.
“It’s been a long process to get to the tennis she’s been playing over the last few years,” says her coach Craig Tyzzer.
“I don’t think she thought she was a Grand Slam winner back then. I think she just thought she was good at tennis – if she really worked at it, things might work out, but she was going to give it a try.”
Everything that happened before and since has built up to this moment and the ultimate success on her home stage. The top-10 breakthrough, the first major title won – improbably on clay at the French Open – and then, in 2021, a childhood dream realised with victory at Wimbledon.
On her home courts, she has been utterly dominant, her all-round game and tactical nous leaving opponents befuddled.
Madison Keys, who Barty beat in the quarter-finals summed it up – “I think the rest of us are watching it thinking, ‘Wow, this is incredible’, but, when you watch her, she seems completely in control of all of it.”
Tyzzer has been a key part of Ash Barty’s success, guiding her through the initial stages of her comeback and then to the top of the world. “I’m pretty lucky to work with an athlete like Ash,” he said. “She's the best athlete I’ve ever worked with, the best tennis player I’ve ever worked with.
“As a coach, to have her is a bit of a dream. You can put things together and she’s able to execute that stuff out on the court.”
Barty, who endorses the HEAD Gravity series, was already a hero at home for who she is as much as what she has achieved – a more down-to-earth sports star would be hard to find. A proud Ngarigo woman, Ash also champions the rights and ambitions of Aboriginal Australians and hopes others will follow the trail she is blazing.
“Australians have such a rich history in sport, and I think being able to be a very small part of that is something I always dreamt of, try and create a legacy, try and create a path for young girls and boys to believe in their dreams,” she said.
“Being able to kind of live through that and learn my lessons along the way has been some of the best parts of my journey.”