Vanessa Selbst

Crushing weight of history Barty must conquer



When Chris O’Neil lifted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in 1978 she continued a streak of seven consecutive years of Australian women winning their home grand slam.In fact, between 1959 and 1978 only three interlopers crossed the ocean to snap the local dominance.Watch the Australian Open with live streams of every court at 9Now. Click here to start watching!Aussie star Ash Barty during a change of ends. (Getty)When America’s Nancey Richey (1967) and Billy Jean King (1968) won the Australian Open they achieved feats that at that time were incredibly rare and unusual. British star Virginia Wade was the only other player to manage it in that period of Aussie dominance, lifting the trophy in 1972.Making up part of this narrative was the fact that the sport of tennis hadn’t yet adopted a fully global calendar, making the Australian Open, prestigious as it was, more often than not a tournament that pitted the best Australians against each other with only the most adventurous stars of other nations making the trek across the ocean to try to spoil the party.Yet plenty of greats from abroad tried and failed. It was hard enough to come halfway across the world to win a grand slam, doing it against the likes of Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong was near enough impossible.Court won the tournament 11 times in 14 years between 1960 and 1973. Then Goolagong won it in four of the next five years.When O’Neil lifted the trophy in 1978 it seemed as though the local victories would never end. They were the rule rather than the exception, then, just like that, the tap was turned off. A flood of trophies instantly dried up, beginning a 43 year drought – and that’s just on the women’s side.The men’s draw has thrown up an eerily similar experience, with Aussie dominance until 1976, then nada.So we get to this time every year with renewed hope that the drought will finally be broken.Often, the hope has seemed forlorn but more recently it has risen. While the late 90s and early 2000s saw a renaissance of sorts in Australian men’s tennis it failed to deliver the prize the nation most craves. Lleyton Hewitt had his chance in 2005 but was denied by an inspired performance from Russian star Marat Safin. That was just about the last of Hewitt at the peak of his powers and none of his male compatriots have looked like matching him.Marat Safin beat Lleyton Hewitt 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-4 in the 2005 Australian Open men’s final, winning his first title at the Grand Slam. (Getty)So, for the last decade or so, our hopes have drifted to the women’s side of the draw, first as Sam Stosur got close to the sport’s summit by conquering prime Serena Williams to win the US Open in 2011.For several years after that crowning moment Stosur would arrive in Australia in summer and seem crushed by the expectation. She never played her best tennis in Melbourne, with her best result two fourth round appearances, in 2006 and 2010.The 36-year-old is still fighting hard to better those results, and will walk onto the court again at Melbourne Park later today in a first round match against compatriot Destanee Aiava.But the caravan of Aussie hopes has moved on and it’s now parked squarely at Ashleigh Barty’s front door.It’s a fascinating place to be, with Barty presenting as the archetypal laidback Aussie, who loves beer and footy and couldn’t give two hoots what anyone thinks about her but her nearest and dearest, so long as she’s true to herself.Ash Barty gives classy Yarra Valley Classic winner’s speechAccording to one of her good friends and former doubles partner, Casey Dellacqua, there’s no hidden surprises when it comes to Barty. She is as she seems – and that might just be the key to her quest to break the drought and give her nation what it craves. She won’t be crippled by hope.”For Ash the only expectation that she has on herself is from herself and her team,” Dellacqua tells Wide World of Sports.”When she goes out and performs, that is the only expectation on their minds. I think she’ll manage it pretty well.”Barty, it seems, has found a way to extinguish the fear that holds back many talented athletes; the fear of failure.Dellacqua says that comes back to perspective. Barty may lose matches and bow out of tournaments, but she’s built a life that gives her happiness outside of the tennis court, so she can get over disappointment quickly.Ashleigh Barty on court with Casey Dellacqua at last year’s Australian Open. (Getty)”I think it’s all about perspective, it’s all about having a game plan that you want to execute on the day and unfortunately it’s the nature of sport that sometimes you lose and sometimes you win,” Dellacqua said.”As long as you walk out onto the court as an athlete and you have a game plan and you go out there and you do what you have to do; when you walk off the court what can you do?”Roger Federer, all the best, they all lose. And they all lose in big moments. So honestly it’s all about having perspective – this is what I love about sport, this is my thing, that, at the end of the day I love my sport more than anything. And I love it because sometimes we think it’s all that matters but at the end of the day it’s really not.”Could it really be that simple? A nation watches in hope. After 43 years it’s hard to maintain perspective.


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