Brilliant Ash Barty blitzes Madison Keys to reach Australian Open final

Barty bidding to become first Australian to win home slam since Chris O’Neill in 1978

Australia’s Ashleigh Barty is into the final of the Australian Open. Photograph: Martin Keep/Getty/AFP

Australia’s Ashleigh Barty is into the final of the Australian Open. Photograph: Martin Keep/Getty/AFP

 

For the fourth round in succession under the weight of Australian Open pressure, Ash Barty stood on Rod Laver Arena before a taller, stronger and flatter ballstriker capable of hitting so many of the best tennis players off the court and she dismantled her challenger with ease.

This time, it was the turn of American Madison Keys, who Barty coolly dispatched 6-1, 6-3 in 62 minutes to reach the Australian Open final. She has dropped just 21 games en route to her maiden final at her home slam.

With her victory, Barty became the first Australian woman to reach the Australian Open singles final since Wendy Turnbull in 1980. In her third attempt as the world No 1, she will now compete to win the title for Australia for the first time since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

Of the numerous big ball strikers Barty has faced throughout the past 11 days, Keys was the most destructive shotmaker of them all. A former top 10 player in the midst of a resurgence, she has actually contested more grand slam semi-finals, five, than Barty’s four appearances.

Between them, Barty and Keys have been the two best servers of the tournament and the first objective for Keys was to protect her service games. But despite a high number of first serves early on, Barty was ready. She broke Keys immediately, carving Keys apart with her low slice return and controlling the baseline with her forehand.

Ashleigh Barty waits for Madison Keys at the net after her semi-final win. Photograph: Paul Crock/Getty/AFP
Ashleigh Barty waits for Madison Keys at the net after her semi-final win. Photograph: Paul Crock/Getty/AFP

By the end of the opening game, Keys already appeared to be searching for ideas as she bailed out of a rally on breakpoint with a desperate drop shot, which Barty easily dismissed. It set the tone throughout the opening set as Barty was untouchable on her serve and put constant pressure on Keys’ own service games that eventually told. Down 1-5 and 15-30, Keys double faulted under pressure and Barty closed off the opening set with a forehand return winner.

In the second set Keys fought hard to turn the match around, toiling through two brutal service games just to remain on serve. Her efforts briefly imposed some pressure on Barty, who at 2-2 botched a forehand drive volley and eventually faced a breakpoint for the first time. She responded with a quick forehand winner, eventually holding serve, breaking in the following game and then she marched to a comprehensive win.

So far in Barty’s young career, the Australian Open has understandably been the major where her nerves surfaced in the past. No result underlined that more than in 2020 when she was tightly-strung in her error-strewn semi-final loss to Sofia Kenin.

But a lot has taken place in Barty’s career since then and one of the defining factors of her dominant run has been the experience behind her. Rather than lending her presence to the entire Australian summer swing, Barty opted to retire from a warm up tournament in Sydney. Her coach, Craig Tyzzer, spoke on Wednesday about how she would normally play doubles in grand slam tournaments. Not this year. The goal is clear and she is now one match away from achieving it. - Guardian

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