MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ash Barty really didn’t know how to react to this drought-breaking triumph.
The usually so reserved and understated champion just let it all out, yelling “yes … yes.”
A quick walk to the net to congratulate the Australian Open runner-up, 28-year-old American Danielle Collins. Yes, that restored some sense of order. Acknowledge the umpire with a handshake. Yes, that’s another important task for the women’s top-ranked tennis player.
Then back onto Rod Laver Arena to scream out again: “yes … yes.”
Yes, it had been 44 years since an Australian won a singles title at the Australian Open, quite an anomaly for a country with such a long list of Grand Slam champions. So no need to keep a lid on the celebrations. An almost full house at Rod Laver Arena, despite ticket restrictions imposed for the COVID-19 pandemic, was rocking.
Barty knew what to do when she saw who was presenting the trophy. Her mentor, the Indigenous and Australian tennis icon Evonne Goolagong Cawley, had flown in secretly from Queensland state to hand it over to the next generation star with Indigenous heritage.
Instinct kicked in for Barty. It was a big, loving hug.
Barty will no longer be weighed down by the 1970s.
She recovered from 5-1 down in the second set to beat Collins 6-3, 7-6 (2) in the final on Saturday night, becoming the first Australian to win the Australian Open women’s singles championship since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
The pressure is off the 25-year-old Aussie, who has made a remarkable career comeback after taking time off — missing every Grand Slam tournament in 2015 and ’16 — and briefly flirting with a professional cricket career.
“It was a little bit surreal,” Barty said. “I didn’t quite know what to do or what to feel — just being able to let out a little bit of emotion, which is a little bit unusual for me, and being able to celebrate with everyone who was there in the crowd, the energy was incredible.”
Barty now has Grand Slam singles titles on three surfaces, adding the hard courts of Melbourne Park to her titles on grass at Wimbledon last year and on clay at the 2019 French Open. Serena Williams is the only other active player on the women’s tour with majors on all three surfaces.
“This is just a dream come true for me,” Barty said. “I’m just so proud to be an Aussie.”
Goolagong Cawley was a trailblazer. She won four of her seven Grand Slam singles titles at the Australian Open from 1974-77, after winning the French Open at the age of 19. She won Wimbledon in 1971 and, after having a baby, in 1980. She reached 11 other major finals, including four in a row at the U.S. Open.
And she spotted Barty’s talent at a young age.
“Very lucky to be able to give her a hug in some of the biggest moments in my life,” Barty said. “To be able to experience that together on such a big occasion, on such a beautiful court, and in a tournament that means so much to both of us — it was really nice to have her there just as someone to lean on when I wasn’t really sure what to do.”
O’Neil was involved in the night, too, ushering the trophy into the stadium.
Barty had only conceded one service game through six matches leading into the final.
And Collins was the fourth American in as many rounds to take her on, with Barty beating Amanda Anisimova, Jessica Pegula and 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys in straight sets.
Collins, meanwhile, had to rally from a set and break down to beat Danish teenager Clara Tauson in the third round. She was hampered by a sore back, which prevented her from sitting down in changeovers.
Barty took the first set after saving a break point in the fifth game and then breaking in the next.
Collins hit back, relying on her high-power, high-intensity game to break Barty’s serve in the second and sixth games.
She twice served for the second set, and got within two points of taking her first Grand Slam final to a third.
But she lost momentum when Barty jumped into a second serve and sent a return winner down the line in the seventh game.
Collins went to talk to the chair umpire when she faced a break point, and got booed by the crowd. When she lost the game, Collins got another chorus of boos.
Revived by that kind of energy, Barty won five of the last six games and dominated the tiebreaker.
“This crowd is one of the most fun I’ve ever played in front of,” Barty said. “You relaxed me, forced me to play my best tennis.”
Until Saturday, Barty’s best run in Australia had ended in a semifinal loss to eventual champion Sofia Kenin in 2020.
Australian flags and the red, black and yellow Aboriginal flag were waved around in the crowd. Cathy Freeman, who carried both flags to celebrate her gold medal in the 400 meters at the Sydney 2000 Olympics — one of the defining images of those Games — was there for support, too.
Collins, whose previous best run at a major was a semifinal loss here in 2019, paid tribute to her longtime mentor Marty Schneider and her boyfriend Joe Vollen.
“Thank you for believing in me,” she said, crying. “I haven’t had a ton of people believing me in my career.”
Collins, who doesn’t have a permanent coach, said: “I was pushed to the max, and I gave myself a chance.”
“So it was a great event for me. Accomplished some new things. Learned a lot of new things.”
The home country’s drought in Australian Open men’s singles dates back to Mark Edmondson’s victory in 1976, but the men’s doubles title is back with a homegrown team for the first time since 1997.
Wild-card entrants Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis — the so-called Special Ks — finished off a fairly wild men’s doubles campaign by beating Matt Ebden and Max Purcell 7-5, 6-4.
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