Could it be the year of the Aussie at the Australian Open in 2019?
It might be too much to hope for but the form of Australia’s two brightest prospects is hard to ignore.
Australia’s Ashleigh Barty continues to build momentum heading into the Australian Open with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Belgium’s Elise Mertens in their quarter-final of the Sydney International.
It’s the second top-10 player that Barty, who is ranked 15th, has beaten in consecutive days.
Barty was pleased to back up with another win after her triumph over world No. 1 Simona Halep on Wednesday.
Superb performance from Ash Barty. 👏
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) January 10, 2019
“It was nice and solid today,” Barty said. “I served well, I thought I gave myself a chance on return games.”
“It was important for me to try and get ahead in games. It’s always difficult trying to come back from a 0-15 or 0-30 situation, so it’s important in those first couple of points to set the tone for the match.”
Both players were scratchy early, conceding their opening service games.
Barty broke the Belgian again in the sixth game of the first set but had to fight hard to consolidate the break after being taken to deuce in her next service game, but she peeled off two big serves to close the game out.
The top-ranked Australian broke Mertens again in the ninth game to win the first set.
Mertens’ groundstrokes started to find their mark as she traded service games with Barty at the start of the second set. The Queenslander was equal to the challenge and produced a superb cross-court forehand to earn another service break in the fifth game of the second set.
Mertens immediately broke back, only to drop her next service game.
Barty’s impressive 6-4, 6-4 win over world No. 1 Simona Halep on Wednesday has raised expectations that she’ll be a force in Melbourne at the open.
It was her first career victory over the Romanian, who had beaten her in tournaments in Cincinnati and Montreal in August.
It continues Barty’s impressive renaissance after she stepped away from the women’s tour in 2014.
Barty, then just 18 years of age, had found the relentlessness of the professional circuit overwhelming and took a sabbatical so that she could (in her words) be “a normal chick”.
Heading into the Australian Open, Barty will be the highest-ranked Australian in both the men’s and women’s draw.
She will also carry a top-16 seeding, which will offer her a modicum of protection from the other top line players early in the draw.
There was an all-Australian contest in the men’s draw as well, as Australia’s top-ranked male player Alex de Minaur (29) took on Jordan Thompson (72).
De Minaur had an astonishing 2018, rocketing from 208th to a top-30 ranking and being named ATP’s Newcomer of the Year.
“The Demon” progressed to the semi-finals after a hard fought 7-6, 6-3 win.
The two Australians traded service breaks in an entertaining first set before Sydney’s volatile weather intervened.
When they resumed it was a tie-break that separated them at the end of the first set, with de Minaur clinching the breaker 7-4.
After 71 minutes, it's 19-year-old @alexdeminaur who edges in front.
Secures the first set against Jordan Thompson, 7-6(4).#SydneyTennis
— #SydneyTennis (@SydneyTennis) January 10, 2019
The second set turned into a baseline battle. Thomspon flinched first as de Minaur broke him in the seventh game. He then held serve to clinch the contest.
It was a tight contest despite the straight set scoreline and de Minaur appreciated the contest as heads towards Melbourne Park.
“There were a lot of outside factors coming into this match,” the 19-year-old said.
“I had nerves playing another Australian and I’m very happy to get the win. I managed to stick tough. I had a little bit of a lapse in concentration in the first set and managed to fight back, so I’m very proud of my efforts.”
de Minaur will face Giles Simon in the semi-final after the Frenchman overcame John Millman in three sets in a match that lasted just on three hours, 4-6,6-4,6-4.
A home grand slam winner may be a way off yet, but it’s no longer folly to dream that it may happen.