More Ash Barty food analogies will be in order following the world No.1’s triumph over good friend and compatriot Daria Gavrilova at the Australian Open on Thursday.
Friendships were temporarily cast aside as the duo battled for a third-round berth and it was a relieved Barty who started on fire, then stuttered past the finish post 6-1 7-6(7).
Following her first-round 6-0 6-0 demolition of Montenegrin Danka Kovinic, Barty spoke of her desire to “take the pepper” out of the match, while in the past week she had spoken of eating “all our green beans” in the off-season, having “eaten my Brussels sprouts”, and even admitted she didn’t “bundle up like a bag of spuds” following one testing triumph.
Gavrilova presented a different kettle of fish on Rod Laver Arena.
The pair had squared off three times previously on tour, following their first encounter as promising teenagers in a lower-tier event in Traralgon, in country Victoria, and while Barty led the ledger 2-1, there was more to this clash.
This was a showdown between close friends and Australian Fed Cup teammates.
While Barty’s 11 months away from the sport last year was of her own volition, Gavrilova’s prolonged stint on the sidelines was not.
The 26-year-old, whose ranking had tumbled to No.387 from her career-best of No.20, required a wild card just to make the main draw after a serious foot injury kept her out for a year across the past two seasons.
“She's had a bit of a tricky run over the past 18 months with injury so it’s just nice to see her back out here competing and I think when you play another Aussie, the rankings go out the window, experience goes out the window, you know each other very well,” Barty said.
“(It's) always going to be a tricky match no matter what, but (I'm) genuinely just so happy she’s back out here competing again.”
It was a touching tribute after a tearful Gavrilova had only just collected her towels to walk back down the tunnel having gone so close to forcing a deciding set.
“At the end of the day when we shake hands and go back into the locker room, you're still friends,” Barty said.
“You still have that relationship off the court. We respect each other enough to play hard, play fair, then at the end of the day the result doesn't actually matter.”
It all could have been over and done with so much quicker.
When Gavrilova broke in the opening game she had already passed Kovinic’s unenviable first-round games tally, but she soon trailed a set and 5-2 as Barty stepped up to serve for the match.
With her left thigh heavily strapped, Barty went off the boil and Gavrilova tightened up her error count as she reeled off four straight games to stay alive.
Gavrilova had her chances with two set points in the tie-break, but Barty steadied to close it out after an hour and 34 minutes.
“I think more than anything I probably felt like the set was turning into a bit of a prickly pear really,” Barty said.
“I was doing the right things to get to 5-2 to give myself a chance to serve out the match. Just lost my way a little bit, but in the end happy to be able to bring it back around in the tie-break when I needed to and win some big points.”
“[It was] different conditions in here today, a bit warmer and fair bit of wind down at court level, which makes it a little bit tricky, but I think it’s just trying to be the best I can be every day, whatever that level is,” Barty said.
“Just making sure that I apply myself the best that I can so that regardless of the result I can walk off the court with my head held high. Obviously having 12 months off is a little bit rusty, but certainly happy how I’ve been able to fight through the last couple of weeks.”
Any concerns for the thigh were put to rest – “no I’m fit as a fiddle, good to go” – and while a food analogy wasn’t immediately forthcoming, there was at least a promise of dinner tonight for her good friend and former doubles partner, Casey Dellacqua, who interviewed her on court on her birthday.
The main course may still be five wins away, but if Barty keeps dishing out defeats at her current rate, expect that feast of green beans, pepper, Brussels sprouts and potato analogies to flow.