A humble Ash Barty has credited childhood coach Jim Joyce for helping her make Australian Open history and join tennis royalty with a third grand slam crown on three different surfaces.
The 25-year-old defied intense pressure and expectation to become the first home player to win the Australian Open singles crown in 44 years with a gritty 6-3 7-6 (7-2) victory over American Danielle Collins on Saturday night.
Barty is the first Australian to lift the Australian Open trophy on home soil since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
The world No. 1’s win started a stellar night for Australia, with Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis claiming the men’s doubles title after a 7-5 6-4 win over countrymen Matt Ebden and Max Purcell.
Barty’s title places her in an elite group among international tennis.
Among active players, only Barty and the sport’s greats – Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – have claimed majors on clay, grass and hard courts.
Of that group, only Barty and Williams have won their first three slams on the three surfaces.
“I feel very humble to be in such a select group,” Barty said after the match.
“To be honest, I don’t really feel like I belong with those champions of our sport.
“There’s still work to be done, without a doubt. I’m still very much learning and trying to refine my craft and trying to learn every single day to get better and better.”
Collins made Barty work hard for the home title. Photo: Getty
Barty said her achievement was set up by childhood coach Jim Joyce.
“Ultimately, that was one of the biggest challenges that Jim set out for me when I was young, to be a complete player and be really consistent across all surfaces and be able to play on all surfaces,” she said.
“So to have a grand slam title on each surface is pretty amazing. I never probably thought it would ever happen to me.
Barty said being the player to break the country’s 44-year Open singles title drought only made her Melbourne Park triumph even sweeter.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” she said.
“As Aussies, we’re exceptionally lucky to be a grand slam nation. To get to experience to play at home is really special, and to be here as a champion of the tournament is really exciting.
“The expectation was that I would always come out and give my best, and that’s all I’ve ever done.
“I have been close before, but I think now that we’ve been able to achieve this, you guys don’t need to talk about it any more.”
Barty said it was also “surreal” to follow in the footsteps of the country’s legends who graced the courts before her to win grand slams.
“As Australians, we’re extremely lucky to have the tennis history and the rich history that we do, particularly here at the Australian Open,” she said.
Barty paid a special tribute to her Indigenous idol and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley, and fellow Queenslanders Pat Rafter and Samantha Stosur, for blazing a trail for her and teaching her how to conduct herself with such grace on court and off.
“There are a few that are closer to home for me, and obviously more of their stories I’ve been more invested in just because I know them more as a person,” Barty said.
“Those people that come to mind, Pat Rafter and Evonne, in the way that they handled themselves on the court.
“For me, there’s just no-one better. Recently you’ve had your Dylan (Alcotts), Sam (Stosurs), who are really able to just enjoy the experience and bring so many different people to tennis, bring so many different walks of life to this beautiful sport that we play.
“I’m a very, very small part of that.”
The men’s doubles win from Kyrgios and Kokkinakis made them the first home to win an Australian open since the iconic ‘Woodies’ partnership of Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge in 1997.
The win also came nine years after Kyrgios and Kokkinakis claimed the junior Wimbledon doubles title together.
Kokkinakis, who won his maiden ATP singles title in Adelaide earlier this month, was taken aback by his run of success after several years plagued by serious injuries and illness.
The doubles title was the culmination of a tumultuous campaign. Photo: Getty
“I can honestly say we did not expect to come close to this but with the help of you guys all week, who have been unbelievable, and the coverage and support we got, we couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said.
Kyrgios overcame a bout of COVID-19 a week out from the Open and reached the second round of the singles draw, where he was knocked out by top seed Daniil Medvedev.
The temperamental star allegedly had the trainer of Croatian opponent Mate Pavic threaten to fight him in the players’ gym after one doubles match and was later labelled a “knob” by Kiwi opponent Michael Venus.
“I haven’t had the greatest Aussie summer, I got COVID, but I don’t care about rankings or anything, at the end of the day this is a memory that I’m going to share with him (Kokkinakis) until I’m laying in the (ground),” Kyrgios said.
After an abrasive doubles campaign, the atmosphere in the decider was far more friendly than Kyrgios and Kokkinakis had become accustomed to over the preceding fortnight.