At 1-5 down in a set, most tennis players are thinking about conserving their energy for the next set. By most permutations and combinations, it is a lost cause but Ashleigh Barty clearly isn’t like most people and she clearly doesn’t think like most people either.
The world No 1 staged a rather incredible turnaround from the above-mentioned scenario to become the first Australian winner of an Australian Open singles title in 44 years and joined Serena Williams as the only active female player with a Grand Slam title on all three surfaces.
Barty had been out-hit by Danielle Collins in the second set. The American, playing a super aggressive style of first-strike tennis, just went for her shots and for a while, Barty had no answer to it.
In the first set, Collins had taken the ball inside the baseline only 39% of the time. But in the second set, in the middle of her great run, she was hitting 69% of balls inside the baseline. It was a big increase and it changed the way the match was being played.
Somehow, Collins had managed to take the slice out of the equation, or at least neutralised it to a great extent. This was Barty’s trump card and Collins had, for that period, trumped it.
Ashleigh Barty’s run to the Australian Open title:
1R: Tsurenko 6-0, 6-1
2R: Bronzetti 6-1, 6-1
3R:  Giorgi 6-2, 6-3
4R: Anisimova 6-4, 6-3
QF:  Pegula 6-2, 6-0
SF: Keys 6-1, 6-3
F:  Collins 6-3, 7-6(2)
Zero sets lost, broken just 3 times.
Collins’ all-out attack had also put Barty on the back foot. In the previous rounds, points won inside the baseline were 84% for Barty but it was much lower today.
So even though it was obvious that things needed to change, one wasn’t very sure how she would bring about the change. What could she do to derail a pumped-up Collins?
Collins helped by taking the intensity down just a wee bit. With a lead of 5-1, most might do that. But that was her mistake. She could have finished it off but became a little complacent and that’s all Barty needed.
Barty loves nothing more than finding answers to problems and the answer she arrived at here was to start hitting her forehands with a lot more pace (almost 10 kmph faster – from 122 km/h to 132 km/h). Her pace picked up, she hit a few down-the-line winners, and suddenly, with the crowd chiming in too, Collins started feeling the pressure.
And once Collins dropped her offensive frame of mind, Barty was all over her. It takes so little for the momentum to shift and shift it had.
As Jessica Pegula had put it after their quarter-final, “I think she just does everything better honestly than most people. And just for her size, the fact that she serves so well I think is a big difference. I just think her intangibles, like her defensive play – I think her defense and her serve are probably her best kind of assets.”
And all of it came together once more for Barty to end Australia’s 44-year wait for a singles champion.
Her versatility, mental resolve and ability to do things that few others will even think of (such as coming back from 1-5 down) show why the 25-year-old can truly go on to dominate women’s tennis in the years to come. Her complete game is a huge advantage and as such, she has few weaknesses that opponents can readily pick on before a match.
Even when they do find a weakness, Barty is more than ready to problem solve during the match and it is this ability that makes her the one to beat. Not Serena, not Osaka, not Halep but Barty. Her time is here. Her time is now and if Barty doesn’t know it, few others ever will.
After most of her wins in the earlier rounds, all we had got was a clenched fist by way of celebration. Perhaps she had been holding it all in but on Saturday, she finally let it out and as she did it, the crowd joined in too. One of their own was going to lift the trophy and as far as homecomings go, few will be more special.