And then there were five. More to the point, there are only five. To win a Major on all three surfaces is a rarity. So rare, in fact, that the only current players to have achieved it before Saturday night's Australian Open women's singles final were Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Now Ash Barty joins them, and that is where the list ends. Four all-time greats of the game holding 83 Grand Slam crowns between them, and one who has three on which to build.
Aside from Barty, Williams is the only other in this elite category to have the first three slams across clay, grass and hard courts. Perhaps it is a hint of things to come.
“I feel very humble to be in such a select group,” Barty said. “To be honest, I don’t really feel like I belong with those champions of our sport. I’m still very much learning and trying to refine my craft and try and learn every single day and get better and better.
“It’s amazing to be able to have this experience and this opportunity on three different surfaces and be really consistent across the board. Ultimately that was one of the biggest challenges that Jim [Joyce, her childhood coach] 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.”
It stands to reason that this confirms her versatility. Not only in her precise serve, backhand slices and driving groundstrokes, and her flexibility to change a point’s pace at will, but also her capacity to adapt to different conditions.
Danielle Collins acknowledged as much during the trophy presentation following her final loss. "I really admire you as a player and the variety of your game," she said. "Hopefully I can implement some of that into mine."
The fruits of this variety are evident in a plentiful assembly of statistics. Barty’s 2022 win-loss record now stands at 11-0. The 25-year-old is the fourth female player in the Open era with a 100 per cent winning rate in Major finals (of a minimum three titles) after Virginia Wade, Jennifer Capriati and Naomi Osaka.
This triumph is the fifth time a slam has been won with 30 or fewer games conceded (Williams lays claim to three of these and Iga Swiatek the other). On the all-time fewest-games-dropped charts, she is now tied in eighth spot with Martina Navratilova, Stefi Graf and Mary Pierce.
Over Barty’s seven matches her serve was broken three times – the fewest breaks conceded by a women’s singles slam winner since 2016, bettering Garbiñe Muguruza (five, 2017 Wimbledon), Naomi Osaka (five, 2018 US Open), Serena Williams (six, 2016 Wimbledon) and Emma Raducanu (seven, 2021 US Open). She is, virtually unbreakable.
And yet there also remains room for improvement. In none of her Major titles has she faced an opponent ranked in the top 20. She is the third player in the Open era to have avoided this particular challenge. As she has said many times, and did so again on Saturday, she is still “learning” and “refining”.
The Major she has yet to win is the US Open. The assumption is that it is hers for the taking. However her long-time coach, Craig Tyzzer, is adamant it is not unless officials change the balls.
Wilson balls are used for men’s and women’s events at Flushing Meadows but, unlike in the other Majors, the men’s version is heavier duty with a fuzzier yellow-felt coating.
At last year’s US Open, from which Barty exited in the third round, two bolters reached the final – in British qualifier Radacanu and unseeded Canadian Leylah Fernandez.
“The US Open really needs to change the ball for the girls,” Tyzzer said. “The fact they still use a different ball for guys and girls, it’s a terrible ball for someone like Ash . . . the ball itself is so light.
“It was the only tournament last year and really for two years where she uses gut racket [most powerful strings] but I had to change her to a poly [polyester] just to get any sort of control of the ball. If they keep that ball the same, no one like Ash will win that tournament.
“I think you see the result at the US Open, it was two players who you go, ‘wow, that was two different players won that’. There’s no surprise when the ball is like it is.”
The titles Barty already has under her belt came, she said, at “all very different stages of my life”.
“To be able to have this feeling and experience this a few times over, I just understand how fortunate I am to be able to experience that, because not many people get to do that. It’s just been an incredible journey over this past 20 years of hitting a tennis ball, but particularly the last five or six years in this second phase of my career.”