The Barty party hasn’t really started yet. On Wednesday at Melbourne Park, it was more like morning tea at mum’s.
A couple of thousand fans came along, and Italian Lucia Bronzetti. As she entered the court, it took her a moment to locate her seat, which was not so surprising since she had not been here before. Until two days previously, she had never set foot on court anywhere in a major championship, let alone on Rod Laver arena.
Ash Barty was too strong for Italian Lucia Bronzetti.Credit:Eddie Jim
A detail gave her away: she was not wearing a cap. For a day match on Rod Laver, where the sun slants in at an inconvenient angle, this was a tactical error. Barty, she might have noticed all too late, was wearing a cap with a brim the size of a Queensland verandah.
The small crowd spread out to sun themselves. Only rarely were they roused even to medium voice. Where Fanatics once bellowed hoarsely, sparrows chirped. Otherwise, there was companionable silence.
It wasn’t always like this. When Pat Rafter was the local standard- bearer at the Open in the 1990s, the place rang to “go Pat” and “sorry mate”. When all hopes reposed in Lleyton Hewitt after the turn of the century, it was all “c’mon”, vicht gestures, endless patriotic chants and minimal civilities. The stands were always full. Hewitt thrived on it.
Rafter and Hewitt each won two majors. Barty now walks in their shoes, with a French Open and Wimbledon on her mantelpiece, but not yet an Australian Open play-off. Like Rafter and Hewitt, she embodies a national longing. But to watch and listen to her, you’d hardly know it.
Lleyton Hewitt on Rod Laver arena in his heyday.Credit:Pat Scala
Crowds warmed naturally to Rafter. Hewitt enlisted them to his cause. He wasn’t out merely for the win; he was on a crusade. Five years retired, he probably still is.
Sam Stosur was the anomaly in the succession. Following Hewitt, and also a major winner at the US Open, she was a lovely player, but an introvert who experienced the yearning of the Australian public as a stress, not a spur. In 20 years, she never got past the fourth round at Melbourne Park. There was never a Stosur party. Only now, in her valedictory championship, does she appear to be at her ease.
The Barty era is different. The Barty aesthetic is different. She has no pretension nor affectations. She neither seeks nor shuns the limelight. It doesn’t dazzle or daunt her. She just plays tennis.
She’s made runs at least to the quarter-finals here for the last three years, so establishing the Barty party tradition, but it’s a party in her name rather than with her as its heart and soul. On Wednesday, she described herself as a “hermit” not much affected by COVID restrictions. “A good book and a coffee, and I’m set,” she said. Presently, it’s I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes.
Ash Barty is all smiles after downing Lucia Bronzetti.Credit:AP
In truth, Wednesday lunchtime was a bit early even for homebody Barty. Visor notwithstanding, the sun hurt her eyes. Her first serve is much improved, but in the first set, she landed it less than half the time.
Fortunately, the rest of her game was in good and smooth order. She controlled points as if with a joystick, steering her opponent back and forth across the baseline, swinging left and right. Bronzetti’s racquet might as well have been a fly swat. She did not get a clean winner past Barty until the second set. But by then, Barty had found her range on serve, and the aces flowed.
All this was only to be expected. Bronzetti was a qualifier, ranked in the 140s, not eligible even for a picture with her profile on the WTA website. That’s not to mock her; it is the pecking order.
Ash Barty wins Wimbledon.Credit:AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
She enjoyed her visit to RLA, and said so to Barty at the net, but she did not outstay her welcome. Fifty-two minutes did it. Minutes before it finished, there was one feeble cry of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”, but the rejoinder did not even get to a third “oi”.
It was all, as Barty herself said, low-key. Partly, that’s down to COVID limitations. Partly, it was the billing this day, as a preliminary to Rafael Nadal. Partly, it’s because of matches that are shorter than practice sessions.
The tempo will increase in the next round when Barty meets another Italian, the seasoned and hardened Camila Georgi. Beyond, barring accidents, the formideable Naomi Osaka awaits. Let the party begin then.
But on Wednesday, it was all so matter-of-fact and in-house that Barty probably did the dishes.
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