Ash Barty has maintained her untouchable form by sweeping aside Madison Keys in straight sets to become the first local player to reach the Australian Open women’s singles final in 42 years.
The world No.1 and dual grand slam champion crushed Keys 6-1 6-3 in 62 minutes on Thursday night, leading her conquered opponent to declare it was “easily the best I think she’s ever been playing”.
Barty is the first Australian to make the women’s Open title match since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 who lost to Hana Mandlíková in straight sets.
But Barty is on a mission this summer to cement her status as the queen of the court by bettering that with a win against resurgent American world No.30 Danielle Collins on Saturday night.
‘It’s just incredible’
In her on-court interview, Barty said she was pleased to be playing her best tennis at home.
“It is unreal. Honestly, it is just incredible,” she said.
“I love this tournament, love coming out here and playing in Australia and, as an Aussie, we are exceptionally spoiled that we are a grand slam nation (and) we get to play in our backyard and I am just happy that I get to play my best tennis here.
“I enjoy it, I’ve done well before and now we have a chance to play for a title. It’s unreal.”
As for her finals tactics, Barty revealed she was a “creature of habit” and would not be making changes to her preparation.
“Not a lot will change for us,” she said.
“The preparation stays the same, process is the same.
“I’m able to switch off when I’m not here on site and that makes the time when we are on-site more enjoyable, more special, and then we switch on and get ready to go.”
The top seed can once again thank her imperious serve for setting up the 10th victory of her glorious unbeaten summer.
Incredibly, Barty has dropped only one of her past 82 service games since her opening match of the year against Coco Gauff in Adelaide almost four weeks ago.
She is yet to drop a set this tournament and has conceded just 21 games in 12 near-flawless matches.
Vanquished semi-final opponent Keys said Barty was almost unplayable in her current hot summer form.
When asked what it felt like playing the Australian right now, Keys shrugged and said “it sucks”.
“It’s tough. I mean, she’s just playing incredibly well,” the American said.
“You have a game plan in your head, but she’s just executing everything so well. She’s serving incredibly well, so you don’t get any free points on that.
“Her slice is coming in so much lower and deeper than it was in the past so it’s hard to do anything on that.
“Then you try to play to her forehand and she can open you up there.
“She’s playing some really, really good tennis but, also, she just seems so locked in and focused.
“I mean, I have played her a handful of times and this is easily the best I think she’s ever been playing.”
Like Serena Williams, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, every now and then a player comes along and separates themselves from the rest — and Keys claimed in the women’s game that was Barty right now.
“And it just seems like everything is really working for her right now without playing unbelievable tennis for her.
“I think the rest of us are watching it thinking, ‘wow, this is incredible’, but when you watch her, she seems completely in control of all of it.”
Flying start to match
Barty made a flying start to Thursday’s historic first women’s night-time semi-final, producing a brilliant running forehand pass to break Keys in the opening game.
She typically had no such troubles on her serve, rocketing down an ace on her very first delivery of the match and holding to love for a 2-0 lead.
The Wimbledon champion broke Keys for a second time in the fifth game, then a third time in the seventh game on the way to wrapping up the first set in 27 minutes.
Contesting her fourth grand slam semi-final, and second in Australia, Keys, the 2017 US Open runner-up, offered more resistance in the second set.
Hot title favourite
But there was no denying Barty as the hot title favourite as she repeated her 2019 French Open quarter-final triumph over the big-hitting American en route to her maiden grand slam title in Paris.
“The conditions were really different tonight. It was humid, a little bit slower and the balls were a bit heavier off the strings,” Barty said.
“I just tried to run and adapt and try and make as many balls as I could and keep Maddie under the pump and hold my serve.
“She’s really got the ability to take it away from you really quickly without you even realising.”
Collins booked her date with Barty with an equally impressive 6-4 6-1 dispatch of seventh-seeded Iga Swiatek in Thursday night’s second semi-final.
A semi-finalist at Melbourne Park in 2019, 28-year-old Collins has gone one better to qualify for her first-ever grand slam title match.
Barty holds a 2-1 winning record over her but lost their most recent meeting – in Adelaide the week after the world No.1’s shock Open quarter-final loss to Karolina Muchova.