MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Ash Barty is rarely emotional on court but when she accomplished her dream of winning the Australian Open, which also ended the home nation’s 44-year wait for a singles champion, she tilted her head back and let out an almighty roar.
Fans all around Melbourne Park and around the country were also roaring with joy as the world number one fought back from 5-1 down in the second set against big-hitting American Danielle Collins to complete a 6-3 7-6(2) win and clinch her third Grand Slam title.
“It was a little bit surreal,” the 25-year-old said about her celebratory cry of “Yes”. “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 tonight.”
Since Barty won her first major at Roland Garros in 2019 and subsequently climbed to the top of the rankings, there has been growing anticipation that she would finally be the one who would end the sports-loving country’s wait for a homegrown tennis champion.
The closest she came before was in 2020 when she lost in the semi-finals. Barty finally fulfilled that expectation by becoming the first Australian to be crowned singles champion at the Grand Slam since Chris O’Neil won the women’s title in 1978.
“I think the expectation was that I would always come out and give my best, and that’s all I’ve ever done,” she said. “Now to be able to have this part of my dream kind of achieved is amazing.”
Barty’s adoring fans, many of them in green and gold, flocked to Melbourne Park on Saturday in anticipation of celebrating ‘Australia Day’ for a second time in three days.
The 25-year-old did not disappoint.
O’Neil was among those cheering on from the stands on a floodlit Rod Laver Arena. When Barty converted her first match point with a forehand crosscourt winner, 12,000 hollering fans leapt to their feets to hail the new champion.
Fittingly, organisers had arranged for Barty to receive the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup from her idol, mentor and fellow indigenous Australian, Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
“This is a dream come true for me, and I am so proud to be an Aussie,” said Barty, who teared up when Goolagong Cawley was announced as the trophy presenter.
“It was really special just to be able to give her a hug. It’s the first time I’ve seen her in 12 months.”
Barty has now won Grand Slam titles on three different surfaces, with 23-time major champion Serena Williams the only other active female player to have achieved the feat.
Barty said it was “pretty amazing” and Australian great Rod Laver agreed.
“A Grand Slam champion on three different surfaces, you are the complete player @AshBarty and I am so happy for you tonight,” tweeted Laver, who was among those lucky enough to have a ringside seat.
Barty came into the contest having won 11 of her past 13 finals and had conceded just 21 games during the past fortnight, dropping serve only once. She also had a 3-1 head-to-head lead against the 28-year-old American.
But it was the 27th seeded Collins who was the first to set up a break point in the match with some forceful groundstrokes.
A calm and composed Barty found the range with her serve to get out of trouble and then nosed ahead by breaking Collins in the next game when her opponent served up a double fault.
If Barty believed she would cruise to victory, there was more drama and more fight left in Collins.
Some uncharacteristic forehand errors from Barty allowed Collins, who will make her top-10 debut when the rankings are updated on Monday, to break early in the second set.
The American let out a shriek of “Come On” after opening up a 3-0 lead. She then broke Barty’s delivery, which looked almost impregnable this past fortnight, a second time in the set.
But when Collins appeared to be on the verge of levelling the match as she served at 5-1, the Australian showed nerves of steel and raised her game.
Barty got the set back on serve and then dominated the tiebreak to complete a memorable comeback that left the home nation rejoicing.
“As Australians, we’re extremely lucky to have the tennis history and the rich history that we do, particularly here at the Australian Open,” an emotional Barty said. “I’m a very, very small part of that.
“I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing myself, but to be a very small part of an amazing history in tennis as an Australian is really, really neat.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Melbourne; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)