More notable events from the 2022 Australian Open include Ash Barty breaking the drought, Naomi Osaka’s comeback, and more.
She was 11 or 12 years old when she first saw an Australian Open final. She went as a young player there for a training camp and was astounded by how professional it was and how attentive all of the players were.
Something in her was stirred by her presence.
“Getting a taste of it sort of sparked the fire,” Barty remarked earlier this week. You’re unsure of what you’re capable of. You’re stumped as to what you can accomplish. “
On Saturday, more than a decade after her maiden visit to Rod Laver Arena, Barty left nothing to be desired as she beat Danielle Collins in the Australian Open final, 6-3, 7-6 (2), to become the first Australian player, male or female, to win the singles championship in 44 years. Barty made history in front of an appreciative and vociferous audience.
Other top Australian players, even ones who had won majors internationally, have succumbed to the strain in the past. The pressure of expectation was just too much to bear. Barty had suffered from pressure early in her career, taking a year and a half off from playing as a celebrated youngster, and subsequently as the world’s No. 1 player during the previous two Australian Open events, when she simply hadn’t played her best tennis. Her visage was everywhere, and she dominated the local news, yet she was eliminated in the semifinals in both 2020 and 2021.
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This time, though, things were different. The buzz was still there, but Barty was now relishing it.
Barty remarked on Thursday, “[I] completely enjoy [the attention].” You have to do it. It’s entertaining. It’s fantastic to be competing in the last round in your home Slam. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s incredible…
“I go out there and accept it, smile, do my hardest, and let whatever happens happen.”
That shift in perspective seems to make all the difference.
Throughout the fortnight, Barty, 25, dominated her opponents without losing a set. The communal optimism got stronger with each triumph. On Saturday, Chris O’Neil, the last Australian to win the home Slam in 1978, was in attendance. Rod Laver, after whom the court is named, was one of them. Russell Crowe, an Academy Award winner, was also there. Everyone was interested in seeing Barty attempt what had become more difficult.
Backstage with some amazing Aussie tennis legends, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Chris O’Neil, Judy Dalton and the one and only @ashbarty – who did something special tonight! pic.twitter.com/w3XinXWdHG
— Rod Laver (@rodlaver) January 29, 2022
Following a strong first set, Barty struggled in the first few games of the second, displaying the first signs of anxiety she has shown all season. Collins jumped at the opportunity. With Barty suddenly down 5-1, a third set seemed to be a certain conclusion. But, like she had done throughout the tournament, Barty remained cool and controlled as she reeled off point after point until the score was even. In the end, a tiebreak was required, and Barty left nothing to chance, winning seven of the next nine points to claim the triumph and her third major championship.
When it was finished, with a forehand winner, Barty couldn’t disguise the feelings that had been building for two weeks, or maybe all those years when she first pondered whether she could do it while sitting in the Rod Laver Arena seats. Barty, ever unflappable, clinched her fists and shouted—no, roared—while the audience surged to their feet and screamed with her.
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The emotional outburst didn’t last long, but it provided a glimpse of how important the championship was to her. During the trophy ceremony, Barty was surprised by her childhood idol, mentor, and national icon, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, herself a four-time winner in the competition, in yet another show of what she meant to Australia. Barty began her victory speech by admitting to being “a bit perplexed,” but she never faltered afterwards. She expressed gratitude to her teammates, family, and tournament authorities. She then turned her attention to the audience.
As an Australian, “the most important aspect of this tournament for me is being able to share it with so many people, and you guys in the audience today have been nothing short of outstanding,” Barty said. “This is one of the most enjoyable crowds I’ve ever played in front of, and you guys gave me so much pleasure out there today. You relaxed me, you pushed me to play my best tennis, and I knew I had to bring it today against a champion like Danielle…
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, and I’m very pleased to be an Australian.”
Barty now belongs to an exclusive group of Australians and athletes. She is the only current player to have won Grand Slams on all three surfaces, along with Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. The pressure and expectations will only increase from here, but Barty seems to be prepared and ready for whatever comes next.
The flame has reached its full potential.
It’s been a wonderful two weeks of tennis in Australia, in addition to all of the history and excitement of Saturday’s final. Here’s what you could have missed from the women’s draw if you were busy, well, sleeping for most of the tournament:
Naomi Osaka’s comeback to the game and her enthusiasm
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Following her third-round defeat at the US Open in the autumn, Naomi Osaka took a sabbatical from professional tennis, and few knew when she would return or what to expect from her when she did. However, the four-time major winner began her return earlier this month at a lead-in tournament in Melbourne, where she advanced to the quarterfinals before withdrawing due to injury.
And in her first two matches at the Australian Open, where she was the reigning champion, she showed no symptoms of fatigue, defeating Camila Osorio and Madison Brengle in straight sets. She seemed happier and more calm than she had in a long time, even at tense times on the court, and she was regularly seen smiling in between points. After losing to Amanda Anisimova in the third round, Osaka had a nice conversation with her opponent at the net, and she brought a good and revitalised mood to her postmatch press conference.
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Osaka stated, “I battled for every point.” That’s something I can’t feel sorry about. I’m not God, and I can’t win every game. So I just have to keep that in mind and remember that although winning the tournament would be good, it’s nothing exceptional. I can’t win the Grand Slam every year at the start of the year.
“In this match, I feel like I learned a lot about myself. I believe I had a totally different approach in my previous match [at the US Open], so I’m very thrilled with how it went. Of course, I lost, but I’m delighted with how it went. “
While Osaka, 24, did not carry the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup home with her this time, she did take something much greater with her: her passion and love for the sport.
The youth uprising
The young players in the Australian Open received a lot of attention after Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez’s star-making performances at the US Open. Both athletes moved from relative unknowns to sought-after A-listers in a matter of months. Fans and analysts alike were curious to see how they would fair in their follow-up Grand Slam, as well as how other up-and-comers like Coco Gauff and Carlos Alcaraz would fare.
So, we received our answer: it’s not good.
Raducanu lost in the second round against Danka Kovinic due to a blister on her right hand that hampered her ability to hit. Maddison Inglis, a wild card, beat Fernandez 6-4, 6-2 in the opening round. Gauff, who reached the fourth round of the competition in 2020, lost her first match 6-4, 6-2.
Of course, there were other young players who made an impact. Iga Swiatek, the 2020 French Open winner, reached the semi-finals. Anisimova, who is also 20, beat Osaka, and Clara Tauson and Marta Kostyuk, both 19 years old, also made an impression.
So the sport and all of the players described here have a bright future, but with so much depth in tennis, particularly in the women’s game, it’s difficult to see adolescents—or any age group—dominating every event, and it’s unjust to place such high expectations on anybody.
“Onwards and upwards!” Fernandez said on Instagram following her defeat.
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Cinderella’s final narrative
There are countless others who have been grinding on tour for years, hoping for that one tournament to make their mark. For every young prodigy who bursts onto the global scene with a deep run at a Grand Slam, there are countless others who have been grinding on tour for years, hoping for that one tournament to make their mark.
That moment that never arrives for many, Alize Cornet, on the other hand, is no longer in that category. Since the start of the 2007 season, the 32-year-old Frenchman had competed in every major and had never gotten beyond the fourth round.
Until this year, that is. Cornet advanced to the quarterfinals of the 63rd major of her career after defeating three seeded women in the main draw, including two-time major winners Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep. Her feat shattered the previous record of 54 majors played before reaching the quarterfinals in the Open era.
After defeating Halep in three sets in the round of 16 in sweltering heat, Cornet went on her knees and buried her face as tears streamed down her cheeks.
And for those who weren’t won over by her impassioned win celebration on the court, she won them over with an emotional and sincere chat with former player Jelena Dokic.
It’s never too late to give it another go, “Cornet added.
No dry eyes in the house 😭😭😭
This on-court interview between @alizecornet and Jelena Dokic is everything. #AusOpen · #AO2022 pic.twitter.com/F3nN0XSHNX
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 24, 2022
In the quarterfinals, Cornet was defeated by Collins, 7-5, 6-1. Cornet said that the experience and outpouring of affection on social media were overwhelming, and that she likely spent too much time “responding to every single individual” in the weeks leading up to the match. She wouldn’t change a thing, however.
“I have no regrets since this was something I had been looking forward to for so long,” Cornet added. “All I wanted to do was experience this love.”
Peng Shuai has a lot of supporters.
Since her disappearance from social media in November, tennis players, fans, and campaigners have been inquiring about the condition and whereabouts of two-time major doubles winner Peng Shuai. On her Weibo account, the 36-year-old accused Zhang Gaoli, a former high-ranking Chinese government official, of pushing her into sex. She hasn’t posted since the post was removed a few seconds later.
Eight empty boxes, we’ve given out more than 900 “Where Is Peng Shuai” shirts for the Australian Open Women’s Final tonight. All for free. Such a great success. Catch us on the broadcast! pic.twitter.com/dr5cKNkF4h
— Drew Pavlou For Senate (@DrewPavlou) January 29, 2022
Peng has been seen a few times since then in different public areas, but her safety and freedom are still being questioned. Since then, the WTA has said that it would not organise events in China until Peng’s safety has been verified, and numerous players have expressed their worries.
As a result, many fans across the globe were taken aback when security at Melbourne Park requested spectators to remove a T-shirt with the words “Where is Peng Shuai?” scrawled on it early in the tournament. The video of the incident quickly went viral, and fans were enraged.
The competition changed its mind in response to the public outrage. Not only were supporters allowed to exhibit such a slogan, but a group also gave them free shirts with the inscription ahead of Saturday’s women’s final.
Some tennis fans were ready to worry about the condition of American tennis after a disastrous US Open in which no American reached the quarterfinals in men’s or women’s singles play for the first time in tournament history.
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Those who support the Stars and Stripes, on the other hand, reacted in a huge manner. Starting with Collins, who, uh, you know, reached her first major final of her career. Jessica Pegula played in her second-straight quarterfinal in Melbourne, while a resurgent Madison Keys made it to the semifinals. Pegula said she was encouraged by watching her fellow Americans, particularly Anisimova, in her third-round triumph against Osaka and after her fourth-round victory.
Pegula remarked, “I think it’s extremely great.” “It’s fantastic to watch. First and foremost, Amanda had a really trying year last year. She had a fantastic victory against Naomi. To be honest, watching the match gave me a lot of encouragement because the hitting was tremendous. Then I turned around to watch Danielle and Tauson slugging it out in a wild bout, which really pumped me up for today.
“I believe we all support each other.”
Stress level during this match point 1-10? 😰#AusOpen
— wta (@WTA) January 26, 2022
Both Taylor Fritz and Maxime Cressy made it to the fourth round as the last of their countrymen.
The last point
There was some fantastic tennis in Saturday’s final, as well as throughout the tournament, but Swiatek’s match point against Kaia Kanepi in the quarterfinals was possibly the most spectacular.
Please don’t wait any longer to view it if you haven’t already.
The defence is here! It’s the slide! The joyous occasion! This moment had it all, and there may be no better way to sum up the uncertain but highly entertaining Australian Open and the start of the 2022 season than this.
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