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How Australian Open champ Ashleigh Barty evolved into the most unbeatable player on tour

Ashleigh Barty is the top player in the world. She’s a hometown hero. And now, she can call herself an Australian Open champion.

By Greg Garber

Backpedaling as the lob descended, Ashleigh Barty launched herself into a space she deemed appropriate. Hanging for a considerable moment, she cracked the overhead – ridiculously athletic, crisp and clean for a winner.

As the crowd roared, she even indulged herself with a mild fist pump before wiping her face with her wristband.

It was the fourth point of a second-set tiebreak, the fourth in her favor, and it was the decisive, emphatic blow in a 6-3, 7-6 (2) victory over Danielle Collins. And so, Barty is your 2022 Australian Open champion, a turn of events that seemed inevitable for the better part of the fortnight.

The headline, understandably, was the end of a painful 44-year famine for this proud nation. Barty is the first Australian player, man or woman, to win this title since Chris O’Neil in 1978. She was on hand Saturday night, along with Rod Laver Arena’s full complement of anxious Aussies that included Laver himself, along with Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Russell Crowe and Olympians Ian Thorpe and Cathy Freeman.

But the enormous elephant in the room – redundant, yes, but this can’t be overstated – can anybody beat Ash Barty going forward?

Despite the sheer pressure that has paralyzed so many Australian players before her, she rose to meet the moment. As dominant as Barty was these past two weeks, she showed us something different in the final: grit and fight, which she hadn’t needed until the final. Barty was down 5-1 in that second set and ripped off four games in a row to set the course for the tiebreak.

After major triumphs it’s easy to rush to supposedly definitive judgments, but there’s some compelling evidence that the temperature, the chemistry of the WTA has been profoundly altered, perhaps for some time.

This is the third major title for the 25-year-old Barty – and the second in the past three. She’s 3-0 in finals. It may escape a cursory glance, but this was Barty’s first hard-court major. She’s won her three Grand Slam singles titles on three different surfaces. As it stands, Simona Halep and Garbiñe Muguruza are still without that big hard-court win.

“It’s amazing to be able to have this experience and this opportunity on three different surfaces and be really consistent across the board,” Barty told reporters afterward. “Ultimately that was one of the biggest challenges that [early mentor] Jim [Joyce] set out for me when I was young was to be a complete player and be really consistent across all surfaces and be able to play on all surfaces.

Social buzz: Reaction pours in for Aussie heroine Barty

“So to have a Grand Slam title on each surface is pretty amazing. I never probably thought it would ever happen to me.”

Only one other active woman owns major wins on three different surfaces – Serena Williams, who turned 40 last September. That’s a good club in which to be a member. There’s more, too. Barty dropped only 30 games in seven matches, marking only the fifth time this century that a Grand Slam champion lost 30 games or fewer. Three of those other four belong to Serena.

Barty – quite capable of subtlety and nuance – is easily the most complete player in the game, without a notable weakness.

Dominant serve? Check.

Wicked slice backhand that rarely comes up into the hitting zone? Check.

Absurd variety? Check.

Composure? Check.

Confidence level? Check, mate.

Barty is now the all-court threat in the women’s game. Naomi Osaka had cornered the recent market on hard courts, winning two Australian Opens and two US Opens but historically has not been a viable threat at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

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