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'You feel helpless': Is there a way to crack Barty's armoury?

  • Alex Sharp

Ash Barty is the world No.1, the top seed, and making opponents feel "helpless" at Australian Open 2022. 
The home favourite crushed 21st seed Jessica Pegula 6-2 6-0 on Tuesday to reach the semifinals for a second time at Melbourne Park.

MORE: Women's singles results AO 2022

Fairly much everyone's pick for the title, Barty is attempting to become the first local champion since Chris O'Neil in 1978. 

The Queenslander appears to be managing the external and internal pressures brilliantly, going about her work with brutal efficiency in dropping just 17 games in five matches.
So much so that Pegula began her press conference with this on Tuesday: "I think we've seen her do that to a lot of people. Unfortunately, I was a victim tonight to that. There wasn't much I could do.
"I think she's definitely living in everyone's head a little bit. She's figured it out… mentally and physically with her game.

"She has the confidence right now where I think she feels like she can go out there and kind of chop anybody up when she's playing really well."

That backhand...

What's it like to be on the end of Barty's all-court craft and cunning match play then?  
"You feel pretty helpless. I think that she really, when she gets into a rhythm, she can run away," said Pegula. "Her game just kind of picks you apart a little bit, and it can be really frustrating because you don't feel like you can get a lot of free points." 
Moreover, Jim Courier described the 25-year-old's wicked slice backhand as the "best technique in the world," – even better than Roger Federer's! It's a real weapon on the offence or defence.

To complete the package, Barty's 2022 serve has been almost robotic, packing more of a punch, too. From the Adelaide title all the way through until to her fourth round match against Amanda Anisimova, Barty compiled 63 consecutive service holds. That says it all. 
We gained more fascinating insight for the difficulties of facing Barty from former WTA pro and now tennis broadcaster Sam Smith.
"Because she has one of the best serves in the game now, you have to be serving extremely well (yourself)," Smith told ahead of the tournament.

"Players don't want to play to her backhand, because they hate the slice, and then they're terrified of the forehand as well because it's this enormous spinning creature that is very hard to read and track.

"I think players who hit very hard and direct through the court… are the kinds of players who are more difficult (for Barty to face). And who can actually push her back behind the baseline and trap her in that backhand corner."
Smith identified powerhouses such as Naomi Osaka, Garbine Muguruza and Aryna Sabalenka as players who can disrupt Barty. The problem is all three have now departed Melbourne...

Left, at the time of writing, are quarterfinalists Danielle Collins, Alize Cornet, Iga Swiatek and Kaia Kanepi, as well as Barty's semifinal opponent Keys. 
Collins and Kanepi certainly have the power play to peg Barty back deep. 
The Australian required a third set tie-break to pip Collins at Adelaide 2020, and last season was emphatically beaten 6-3 6-4 at Adelaide 2021 by the feisty American.  
Collins can be extremely direct, in your face, no messing and brings those previous battles to the party.

World No.115 Kanepi banished nerves and seeing four match points dissolve to eventually outgun world No.2 Sabalenka. Should they meet on Saturday, a free-hitting Kanepi could cause havoc. 
Before a final showing, Barty must navigate past the rejuvenated Keys.

MORE: Women's singles draw AO 2022

"I think Madison will play her pretty close. I think their games match up a little bit differently. Ash obviously can beat anybody but so can Maddie," mused Pegula, praising her compatriot, who stands at 1-2 in matches versus Barty.

"I think if Maddie is serving really well, really using her kick serve and looking for her forehands, that's something.

"I'm not as tall or my serve isn't as big of a weapon for me as it is for Maddie. I think if she can do those two things she can really make it a tougher match. I think it's going to be a really great semi."

Madison Keys

Keys, taking out eighth seed Paula Badosa and Roland-Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova to reach the final four, is fully aware of Barty's tactical intentions. The problem is stopping it. 
"I think she does such a good job at resetting the point constantly, being able to get back to neutral off of a ball," explained world No.51 Keys. 
"You can't do a tonne off of her slice because it comes in so low. I think that's obviously one of her weapons because then she can set it up to look for a forehand. Once Ash is looking for a forehand, then she can kind of start controlling the point."

From Barty's perspective, the world No.1 is thrilled with her progress, united by the team effort and dealing with all the variables she can control. 
"I'm just having fun to be honest, trying to problem solve out on the court," maintained Barty. "Each and every opponent has been different, has presented me with a different challenge and forced me to use another tool in my toolbox." 
That toolbox is pretty full and expansive. Keys will need to have every shot working to throw a spanner in the works.