arely can a player have spent less time on court in their quest for a Grand Slam title than Ash Barty.
In only her second Australian Open semi-final, the big serve of Madison Keys – along with Barty’s the most potent in Melbourne to date – and her obdurate groundstrokes were meant to provide the biggest test to date.
But Keys fell like all the rest, the match over in an hour and two minutes, the scoreline 6-1 6-3 in Barty’s favour.
The Australian has barely put a foot wrong in six rounds at Albert Park, conceding just 21 games and losing serve on only one occasion. But history and the weight of expectation can have an unsettling effect.
In her last semi-final appearance in Melbourne against Sofia Kenin in 2020, the enormity of the occasion got to her. This time, that could barely have been further from the truth as Keys proved the one to struggle in the spotlight of Rod Laver Arena.
Between now and Saturday’s final, there is no escaping the potential for history making. After all, Barty is reminded in each post-match interview what is at stake.
For now, she is the first Australian into a singles final of their home Grand Slam since 1980, come the weekend the target is to succeed Chris O’Neil as a first home winner in 44 years.
“It’s just unreal,” said Barty after another masterclass in starving her opponent of any rhythm or comfort the other side of the net. “As an Aussie, we are spoiled that we are a Grand Slam nation, and now we have a chance to play for a title. I love this tournament and I love playing in Australia.”
The world No1 has made secret of the fact that this is the title she aspires to the most and this year the focus has shifted to her foregoing the women’s doubles where she has habitually doubled up.
Keys has been one of the revelations of the tournament. Last year, she had managed just 11 singles victory on the WTA Tour, in Australia alone, including her warm-up tournament, she has already exceeded that.
But her power game never really got going, in part down to her nerves, in part down to Barty’s brilliance in nullifying it.
As she put it, the plan was “to keep Maddie under the pump on her serve, to stay point by point and try to do the right things each and every time”. Looking back on the match, it was hard to pick out a moment when she didn’t.
The final is a different prospect altogether where she faces either Iga Swiatek or else Danielle Collins, who were playing out the other semi-final late into the Melbourne night.
While Barty is the overwhelming favourite in the Australian public’s eyes, there has been no shortage of home players to cheer.
Earlier, Dylan Alcott made an emotional farewell as he lost his wheelchair final, while Australian pair Jason Kubler and Jaimee Fourlis will battle it out in tomorrow’s mixed doubles final.
Australia is guaranteed at least one home winner of a Grand Slam title with an all-Australian final in the men’s doubles on Saturday.
The established pair of Max Purcell and Matthew Ebden knocked out Britain’s Joe Salisbury and his American partner Rajeev Ram in straight sets. And in the other semi-final, the occasionally brash pairing of Nick Kyrgios and Thansi Kokkinakis knocked out No3 seeds Horacio Zeballos and Marcel Granollers.
Nicknamed the Special Ks, the duo have annoyed some of their opponents in the draw, Michael Venus branding Kyrgios “an absolute knob” after coming out second best in the preceding round.
Of the unlikely thriving partnership, Kokkinakis said: “I think both of us bring something different, different energy, different sort of charisma on the court. But we just enjoy it and we have fun and that shows, and that is why hopefully you guys watch us. But I think we are unpredictable and that is why they enjoy it.”