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MARATHON shuttle bus trips between Queens and Manhattan. Traffic snarls. Hurricane Ida. Record rainfall and flash flooding. Submerged cars. Destroyed homes. Fourteen dead New Yorkers. Ever- present Covid protocols. The US Open might not be the Hunger Games … but it’s getting close.

“I‘ve always been quite a calm person,” Australian Ash Barty said after knocking over Danish teenager and Daria Gavrilova-lookalike Clara Tauson 6-1, 7-5 inside a deserted Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday to move into round three. She’ll need to be calmer than ever, calmer than the Dalai Lama, to win a third major title. The US Open is a madcap event at the best of times and this year, it’s even more so as one state of emergency is piled on top of another in NYC. There are 1200odd daily Covid cases on top of the disastrous weather. An ability to keep one’s head will serve Barty rather well at Flushing Meadows. The world No.1 is considerin­g returning home to Australia after the Open. She may be back in Queensland before the end of the month. The WTA has been unable to confirm the Tour Finals will be staged later this year and so suddenly there’s limited reason for Barty to continue her six-month world tour.

She misses home, always, and the time is approachin­g when she needs to make a call. If she adds the US Open to her stirring dreams-really-do-come-true Wimbledon triumph, she may justifiabl­y consider her work done for the year.

“Bloody good,” was how she described her victory over Tauson. Closing out the match became an unwanted adventure as her calmness went too far and became passivity. But she came good in the end to roll nicely into round three, potentiall­y four wins away from the final everybody wants. A showdown between Barty and Naomi Osaka would be the biggest for Australian sport since Ariarne Titmus went eyeball-to-eyeball with America’s Katie Ledecky in the Olympic pool.

Barty and Osaka first played at Acapulco in 2014, as teenagers, and Barty won in straight sets. Four years passed without a rematch because Barty was hitting cover drives in the nets with Brisbane’s WBBL team. At the 2018 Australian Open, Osaka won in straight sets. At Nottingham that same year, Barty won in straight sets. At Beijing in 2019, Osaka sneaked through in three sets to level their head-tohead at two-all. Despite becoming the dominant forces in women’s tennis since then, with Osaka claiming four slam titles and Barty two, they haven’t traded blows for two years.

 ??  ?? Australia's Ash Barty.
Australia's Ash Barty.

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