Hollywood star loves Aussie golden girl
Australians everywhere will be glued to their TV screens on Saturday night cheering on Ash Barty, hoping to celebrate a first singles grand slam champion from Down Under in eight years.
Not since Sam Stosur lifted the trophy at Flushing Meadows in 2011 has Australia produced a singles major winner but Barty will be able to change that when she faces Marketa Vondrousova in the French Open final.
The 23-year-old Queenslander endured a rollercoaster ride in her semi-final against American teenager Amanda Anisimova but ultimately prevailed. She raced to a 5-0 lead but collapsed to lose the first set, then gave away the opening three games of the second set and her trip to Paris looked like it was going to end in heartbreak.
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But Barty showed tremendous resilience to bounce back, winning the second set then taking charge in the third to record a famous 6-7 6-3 6-3 win.
Aussie tennis coach and analyst Roger Rasheed and legend Todd Woodbridge heaped praise on Barty, and she also had some Hollywood star power in her corner with Hugh Jackman tweeting his support.
Plenty of other Aussie fans jumped on social media to celebrate the Barty Party too as the tennis Twittersphere went into meltdown.
Barty could barely believe her wild ride herself.
"It's crazy, it really is. It's incredible, it really is," she said. "It was pretty brutal out there and I was proud of the way I was able to fight and scrap and find a way after I pretty much threw away that first set.
"It's been an incredible journey, the last two weeks.
"I'm so proud of myself the way I was able to go out there and handle it."
A devastated Anisimova paid tribute to her rival after the heartbreaking loss.
"Today, she was just too good," she said. "It was just a tough day today. She played well, so all credit to her."
Seeded eighth coming into the French Open, Barty will reportedly rise to No. 2 in the world on Monday. She was always destined for big things but it didn't always look like she'd achieve them on the tennis court.
Massive props to @ashbar96 !! What an incredible achievement. Women’s tennis in Australia has been in good hands over the past decade. Come on Ash! 💪🏻💪🏻— Rennae Stubbs (@rennaestubbs) June 7, 2019
A junior Wimbledon champion at 15 and three-times grand slam doubles finalist by 17, Barty was mentally burnt out at 18 after making the ultimate sacrifice of all: leaving the comfort and security of her family home.
Depressingly homesick and suffocating under crushing expectations, the so-called next Martina Hingis packed it all in September 2014.
The shy, prodigiously gifted teenager dropped the bombshell after a first-round US Open loss, trading the grind and isolation of the professional tennis circuit for the camaraderie of women's cricket and the Brisbane Heat dressing room. Incredibly, having never hit a ball outside her back yard, Barty made a stunning cross-sport transition.
So exceptional was Barty with the willow that Queensland women's coach Andy Richards reckons the all-round super talent could easily have been preparing for an Ashes series right now alongside Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning and Co. instead of readying herself for her maiden grand slam final appearance at Roland Garros.
"In 12 months she could've played for Australia," Richards told AAP after Barty's foray into cricket featured a club ton and a tidy 39 off 27 balls on her WBBL debut in 2015.
"I've never seen anything like it since and probably never will.
"She's a freak from that perspective, in how she transferred her skills across."
Barty's first appearance in a singles grand slam final is remarkable considering her cricket swap. Fittingly, ESPN Cricinfo uploaded a video celebrating her latest achievement by spruiking some cross-code promotion.
But tennis was in her blood.
After missing the one-on-one combat, Barty returned to her first sporting love on June 6, 2016 - almost three years ago to the day.
"I think it's what I was born to do," she said.
"I'm a tennis player through and through. I just had to see that for myself. "I walked away and thoroughly enjoyed my time in cricket. It was a gradual progression for me, during those two years, to want to come back to the sport I had played and loved since I was five years old."
All those countless hours hitting balls, from Wednesday to Sunday at the West Brisbane Tennis Centre under the guidance of first coach Jim Joyce, is now paying off.
The Ipswich-born 23-year-old will stride onto Court Philippe Chatrier on Saturday night a warm favourite against unseeded Czech Vondrousova to become Australia's first French Open singles champion since Margaret Court in 1973.
Three other compatriots, including her indigenous idol and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley and her Fed Cup teammate Stosur in 2010, have fallen in the women's final in Paris in the 50-year professional era.
Goolagong Cawley, though, is among the many who believe it's Barty's time to break the drought.
Already a grand slam doubles champion, having broken through with CoCo Vandeweghe last year in New York, Barty's rise in singles has been both steady and spectacular.
From a ranking of No. 623 on her return from a 21-month hiatus, Barty cracked the top 50 for the first time barely a year later.
She entered the top 20 in October 2017, after landing her first WTA title in Kuala Lumpur.
Lauded for her rare ability to play chess on a tennis court, Barty entered the top 10 for the first time in March after claiming her fourth, fifth and sixth top-eight scalps of the season en route to glory at tennis's "fifth major" in Miami.
Unbeaten in six singles and doubles rubbers while leading Australia to its first Fed Cup final this year since 1994, Barty has won more matches during her milestone-filled 2019 season than any other player in the world. Just one more win and Barty will have her name etched alongside Court, Goolagong Cawley and Lesley Bowrey as only the fourth Aussie woman on the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.
A new ranking of No. 2 will follow on Monday.
Barty could even arrive later this month at Wimbledon's All England and Croquet Club, where she was girls' champion in 2011 and where many felt her grand slam breakthrough was most likely to come, as world No. 1.
Heady days indeed for a humble young star who most feared was lost to tennis forever.
Fox Sports will be showing the French Open final live, with a special pre-match show starting at 10.30pm AEST featuring Aussie tennis star Casey Dellacqua.
With Darren Walton, AAP