Ash Barty’s fans donned the unmistakable yellow and red Vegemite t-shirts at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night. But instead of ‘Vegemite’ inscribed in the middle, ‘Barty’ featured instead.
Spread the word – Barty is now an Australian Open champion to match her exploits at Wimbledon and the French Open.
The world No.1 became the first home winner of the Australian Open since Chris O’Neil in Kooyong in 1978 after holding off maiden Grand Slam finalist Danielle Collins 6-3 7-6(2) in Melbourne.
A forehand passing shot on match point prompted a roar from Barty, who seconds later showed even more emotion with an extended roar. Atypical, yet understandable, for the usually even-tempered all-arounder.
There was a hug with former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua, too.
O’Neil was one of those in attendance – she opted for different attire – joining Barty’s parents, Josie and Robert on a night sure to be revisited in Australia for years to come.
Barty's idol, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, presented the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup to her.
"This is just a dream come true for me and I’m so proud to be an Aussie," Barty said.
She thanked her entire box, mindful of their long journey together.
"We started right from the start, the second part of our career, we did it all together, no-one has changed, it's been incredible," said Barty, who returned to tennis in 2016 after a roughly two-year absence.
"I love you guys to death, you are the absolute best in the business and I can’t thank you (enough) for all the time and love you put into me."
Lleyton Hewitt had previously been the closest to triumphing at home in 2005, falling at the final hurdle to a mercurial Marat Safin.
Given all that was at stake and facing a feisty, talented opponent that beat her in Australia in the past, this didn’t appear to be the free-flowing Barty previously witnessed this fortnight.
Yet she rallied from 1-5 in the second and played a near flawless tiebreak to conclude the event without dropping a set.
"It's been tremendous to watch her climb the rankings all the way to No.1 and live out her dream. I really admire you as the player you are and the variety of your game," Collins said in a gracious runner-up speech. "Hopefully I can implement some of that into mine."
Barty's run included scalps over Collins, Jessica Pegula, Amanda Anisimova and Madison Keys – the same US quartet she bettered in Paris in 2019. Destiny?
Barty entered the arena to massive applause, responding with a typically low-key wave with her left hand.
It got even louder after she won the first point thanks to a hefty serve on a pleasant evening with the roof open after rain disrupted play in recent days.
Collins is known for her loud yells of “come on” but opted for a muted fist pump when claiming her first point at 40-0.
The world No.30 desperately needed to stay close to her opponent. They were both bound to be dealing with nerves, such was the grand occasion.
Ripping a backhand winner cross court – perhaps her most lethal shot – boyfriend Joe Vollen approved in Collins’ box.
The first key moment arrived at 2-2. Barty’s 40-15 lead evaporated, and Collins earned a break point.
Barty didn’t seem to make entirely clean contact with a forehand inside-in but it landed on the line.
The two-game swing seen more than a few times in tennis then manifested itself. Collins double faulted about a yard long and the Queensland native struck the first blow for 4-2.
Barty’s ability to adjust and alter tactics is one of the reasons for her tremendous success.
As the set reached its later stages, she limited Collins’ chances of attacking with that backhand.
Barty grabbing the first set spelled trouble for Collins, since – not including a retirement – the 25-year-old had only lost once since the start of 2021 when in that position. Mind you, it came in last year’s Australian Open quarterfinal against Karolina Muchova.
Collins, however, appeared unfazed.
Two errant forehands from Barty at 0-1 gave Collins two break points, the second of which was taken after solid approach work led to a thunderous smash.
For the first time Collins showed real emotion, bending down with a fist pump accompanying a “come on" full of conviction.
Collins became just the second player to break Barty – joining Anisimova – and thwarted two break points immediately.
Collins, who upset 2020 French Open winner Iga Swiatek in the semifinals, managed to do what no one else had, create some breathing space.
If tension began to manifest itself for Barty, she rebounded with a strong hold for 1-3.
Undaunted, Collins surged, as a sagging Barty was broken again. Would Barty’s thoughts turn to a third set?
She began to unload on forehands to race to the next three games for 4-5.
Barty was still in a tricky position, and especially when she conceded the first point in the ensuing game. At 0-15, a cross-court approach gave Collins a slight opportunity but her pass found the net.
But there was the forehand again for 40-15.
Now it was Collins’ turn to hold firm, with Barty – and the crowd – energised.
Four ripped serves from Barty, including one at 15-30, got her to a tiebreak.
Barty led 4-0, highlighted by a thunderous smash and the job was almost done, confirmed five points later.
Still, Collins had to be pleased with her tournament.
Perhaps she wouldn’t have seen this coming after undergoing emergency surgery for endometriosis last year and suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
She also said in her runner-up speech that she faced physical issues earlier at AO 22.
The 28-year-old product of the US college system clearly enjoys Australia and will now move inside the top 10, a career high.
So does Barty, and the host nation enjoyed her historic win on Saturday.