Many people predicted that Ash Barty would play Naomi Osaka in the round of 16 of the Australian Open. Barty wasn’t one of them. “That was her expectation,” she told reporters after Osaka fell to Amanda Anisimova. “My expectation was whoever it was.”
Barty’s expectation is closely aligned with her memory, and her memory is of being a set and three games down against the 17-year-old Anisimova in the Roland Garros semi-final in 2019.
“I remember the most important moment in that match was getting out of the chair at 3-0 in the second set,” he recalled. “I remember, to this day, what I said to myself at that change of purpose. From that moment on, it has helped me a lot, sticking to those values and continuing to try to grow every time on the court, and solving problems and making my way.”
On Sunday, Barty will renew her rivalry with the American, who hasn’t made it past the third round of a Grand Slam since but continues to show she remains a danger to the Australian’s chances at Melbourne Park.
“I try to forget, but I also remember that I learned a lot from that moment,” he said. “That was a turning point in my career, and you have to be able to learn from those moments, as hard as they are sometimes. I was able to navigate and find a way. That at that time in my life, in my career, it was a big turning point.”
More immediately, that turning point earned her a three-set win and the French Open trophy after she beat Markéta Vondroušová in the final to secure her first Grand Slam title. Since then, the 25-year-old, who added last year’s Wimbledon title to her hefty collection, has been the untouchable World No.1 with no sign of losing the top.
“It seems like a lifetime ago, but some of those memories are still very vivid,” he said. “We will certainly take that and use that experience, use those feelings and those emotions to the best of our ability.
“I would have loved to have had the chance to play Naomi. I love testing myself against the best. In the position we are in, Amanda has played a fantastic tournament. He deserves his place in the round of 16. I think the game we will play will be exciting. It will be good for both of us to go out and test ourselves against each other.”
The encounter has the potential to turn both ways. Anisimova, now 20, has brought aggression to Melbourne Park that Belinda Bencic couldn’t contain either, and a bewildering wide serve.
Barty, however, has won 57 consecutive service games dating back to her first match of the year at the Adelaide International against Coco Gauff. In this tournament, she has yet to break serve in 23 games, including during a couple of tough moments against Italian third-round rival Camila Giorgi.
“It’s been really solid for the last two weeks,” he said. “Particularly in Adelaide, I felt I found a very good rhythm. Here, so far in my matches, I’ve been able to come out of some really tough games.”
The match will open the afternoon session at Rod Laver Arena, although Barty made no secret of his preference for playing during the day.
“I think I love to play during the day, that’s no secret,” he said. “I have always been a morning person, always an early riser and grew up playing in the Australian sun. I love it. I love the extra bounce and warmth on the court.
“But the night sessions here at the Australian Open are really special. The experience and the atmosphere that is created in a night session is absolutely great.
“So, I mean, everyone has preferences, but I’m not arguing either way. I’m happy to play anytime and have the opportunity to go out there and try to do what I can do and enjoy it and take it for what it is.”
Anisimova, whose fine form in recent months has coincided with the presence of Australian coach Darren Cahill at her camp, is well aware of the threat posed by the two-time Grand Slam winner.
“She is an amazing player, I admire her a lot,” Anisimova said. “I love his game. She is very consistent. She is a champion.
“So it will be exciting to face her, another incredible opportunity for me. I’m going to go back to the practice court tomorrow and work on my game and try to give myself the best opportunity.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism