Ashleigh Barty has so far done a terrific job of managing the weight of expectation from an expectant public- can the world No. 1 put together two more wins to end Australia's long wait for a women's singles champion in Melbourne?
Barty contests her first Australian Open semi-final on Thursday when she faces American youngster, Sofia Kenin.
It has been an extremely long wait for Australia.
Not since Jelena Dokic in 2009 had a home player reached the quarter finals of the women’s singles draw in Melbourne, while the last semi-finalist before Barty was Wendy Turnbull in 1984. Turnbull is also the most recent Australian Open women’s finalist, having finished runner-up to Hana Mandlikova in 1980, when the tournament was still being staged on the grass courts of Kooyong.
The last home player to win the Australian Open women’s title was Chris O’Neil in 1978.
For much of this century, Australian hopes rested squarely on Samantha Stosur. The former world No. 4 enjoyed success at other venues, but she couldn’t quite put together a run in Melbourne. Stosur won the US Open in 2011 just a year after reaching the Roland Garros final, but she struggled to make any impact on her home event, making the second week just twice in her career. The former Aussie No. 1 has never gone beyond the fourth round in Melbourne.
Barty has since taken up the mantle, and with the assured and unflustered way she has gone about her business, there is genuine hope and belief that Australia’s four-decade wait for a local champion could be about to end.
The 23-year-old has come of age over the last year, winning her maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, and adding titles in Miami, Birmingham, and the WTA Finals in Shenzhen to finish 2019 as the undisputed No. 1 player in the world.
Barty has taken all of the hype in her stride over the last week and a half in Melbourne, somehow blocking out the noise and piling on the wins to arrive on the verge of a historic triumph.
“I don’t pay attention to it honestly,” Barty said. “I’m here to try and do the best that I can… Obviously it’s exciting. Hopefully I can bring a smile to a few faces around our country and around the world”.
“For me, it’s trying to do the best that I can, find that enjoyment for myself and my team.”
The world No. 1 is currently on a nine-match winning streak, having won the Adelaide title on the eve of the Australian Open, and put together five wins in Melbourne. She has beaten Lesia Tsurenko, Polona Hercog, Elena Rybakina, Alison Riske and Petra Kvitova, and now has her sights set on Sofia Kenin.
There’s still plenty of work to be done. She needs to get past the super talented Kenin in Thursday’s semi-final, after which she can contemplate a possible final against two seasoned campaigners: Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza- both multiple major winners, both former world No. 1s.
Barty vs Kenin is live from Melbourne on Thursday, 30 January from 2:00pm local time/ 3:00am GMT. Read the full match preview.