Should a doper be the face of our Open? {NEWS P3} Match-fix­ing threat alert

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE - WILL SWANTON

Women’s ten­nis has been dom­i­nated for two decades by tow­er­ing glama­zons who hit the cover off the ball while shriek­ing with such a grat­ing, ear-pierc­ing in­ten­sity that a spec­ta­tor at the Aus­tralian Open once yelled at Maria Shara­pova, “Shut up!”

Rather than be­ing razzed for his rude­ness to­wards a vis­it­ing su­per­star, the man was ap­plauded as a boom­ing voice of rea­son.

Ash Barty is eas­ier view­ing and smoother lis­ten­ing, and there will be no need for TV view­ers to dive for the mute but­ton while she’s play­ing at Mel­bourne Park next week, not un­less they’re try­ing to avoid the cheesier and more jin­go­is­tic as­pects of the cov­er­age from the host broad­caster. There’s a rel­a­tively gen­tle, audi­ble ex­ha­la­tion from Barty as she serves but when the 21-year-old out­ma­noeu­vred com­pa­triot Daria Gavrilova in swel­ter­ing con­di­tions in yes­ter­day’s semi-fi­nal at the Syd­ney In­ter­na­tional, her ground­strokes were played to the glo­ri­ous sound­track of com­plete si­lence.

Gavrilova was huff­ing, puff­ing, groan­ing and moan­ing more of­ten but there’s noth­ing in ei­ther of Aus­tralia’s leading play­ers to com­pare with the 103.7 deci­bels at­trib­uted to Shara­pova, which puts her up there with lawn­mow­ers, pneu­matic drills, Har­ley-David­son mo­tor­cy­cles or small air­craft land­ings for cre­at­ing a pub­lic dis­tur­bance.

Barty’s 3-6 6-4 6-2 tri­umph was a spir­ited and high-qual­ity con­test be­fore the Queens­lan­der’s more re­li­able all-court game re­vealed the cracks in Gavrilova’s ar­mour.

Still, there’s not much be­tween them as they head to the Aus­tra- lian Open and try to make a bit of noise as the 18th and 23rd seeds.

Barty will com­mence her cam­paign against Be­laru­sian teenager Aryna Sa­balenka, who is mak­ing her de­but in Mel­bourne, while Gavrilova has drawn a yet-to-bei­den­ti­fied qual­i­fier. She twice punched the strings of her rac­quet while wait­ing to re­turn serve on match point, and then she tossed her rac­quet at the base of the um­pire’s chair when de­feat was con­ceded. She gave her mate a hug and a peck on the cheek and walked away while the jubilant Barty grabbed five balls and belted them into the stands, ap­plaud­ing a kid for pulling off a div­ing, one-handed screamer.

“Just fight,” was Barty’s re­sponse to los­ing an open­ing set likened to an NRL game in which both sides kept drop­ping the ball. Ser­vice breaks were here, there and ev­ery­where be­tween two play­ers who clearly knew in­sid­e­out each other’s strengths, weak- nesses and mind­sets. “Be­cause you know each other so well, that makes it more un­com­fort­able,” Barty said. “When we prac­tise to­gether, I know what we do. She knows my game back to front. It’s tough but I think you have to go out there and just ap­proach each match the same. When you play an­other Aussie, you re­spect each other enough to go hard at each other. And then no mat­ter who wins, you shake hands and hug it out at the net and you can still go out for a cof­fee in the af­ter­noon.”

The Syd­ney In­ter­na­tional is some­thing of a gen­tle warm-up for the Aus­tralian Open. The crowds are rel­a­tively small. The match prac­tice is in­valu­able.

The win-win as­pect of beat­ing Gavrilova was that Barty had an­other day of se­ri­ous prepa­ra­tion, she guar­an­teed her­self an­other se­ri­ous con­test in the fi­nal tonight, and she was able to avoid the Mel­bourne cir­cus, spot­light and hype un­til her ar­rival just one day be­fore the tour­na­ment starts on Mon­day.

“It’s amaz­ing,” Barty said. “It’s nice to make a fi­nal at home. In my eyes it’s per­fect prepa­ra­tion for next week. I mean, I’d love to go one fur­ther and hold the tro­phy up here, but you know, I love play­ing in Aus­tralia, I love play­ing at home and it’s nice to be able to get a lot of matches here and be re­warded with the fi­nal. It’s ex­cit­ing go­ing into my home slam as (the Aus­tralian) No 1.

“There’s noth­ing bet­ter than play­ing at home, play­ing in front of a home crowd. Re­gard­less of whether you’re No 1, No 10, or 100 in the world, it’s the best feel­ing for an Aus­tralian to be play­ing at the Aus­tralian Open. We’re ex­tremely lucky to be a grand slam nation, and to be able to start our year at home is re­ally ex­cit­ing. We have set up a per­fect plat­form for me to work with this year to try and go deep in tour­na­ments, whether it’s in Aus­tralia or in Europe or in the States.”


Ash Barty hits balls into the crowd af­ter de­feat­ing com­pa­triot Daria Gavrilova in their semi-fi­nal match at the Syd­ney In­ter­na­tional

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