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Women's final preview: Home fans hold their breath

  • Dan Imhoff

Ash Barty makes no secret of her aversion to statistics, and as she enters her third Grand Slam final and first on home soil against Danielle Collins on Saturday night, there is one number she is doing her level best to duck and avoid.

With the No.1 seed next to her name and as the reigning Wimbledon champion, the 25-year-old has heard the number 44 more times than she would care to remember this month.

MORE: Day 13 schedule of play

That's how many years have passed since the last homegrown champion, Chris O'Neil, held an Australian Open singles trophy.

Barty stands on the precipice of erasing this from pub trivia once and for all should she land her fourth victory in five encounters with the fearless Collins before an expectant Rod Laver Arena crowd.

Six wins down, one to go: Barty and her fans know what's at stake on Saturday

"It's brilliant to be playing in the business end of your home Slam. I'm not gonna lie about that. It's amazing," Barty said. 

"I think being able to experience it multiple times has been incredible, but Saturday's going to be a new experience for me. So I go out there and embrace it, smile, try and do the best that I can and whatever happens, happens.

"It's been an incredible January, an incredible summer for us. I'm really looking forward to having one last crack here to really go out there and enjoy it."

Local hopes are understandably high.

Barty has spent just six hours and six minutes on court and has conceded a miserly 21 games to a pair of Italians and a trio of Americans, including former world No.7 Madison Keys in a semifinal trouncing.

Only Serena Williams – 16 at the 2016 US Open – and Venus Williams – 20 at Wimbledon in 2009 – have dropped fewer games than Barty en route to a major final since 2000.

While the Queenslander cut a swathe through the top half of the draw, the 28-year-old Collins was at her imperious best, emerging from consecutive matches from a set down – against Clara Tauson and Elise Mertens – for the first time at a major.

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She was merciless in straight-sets defeats of Alize Cornet and seventh seed Iga Swiatek to better her Australian Open semifinal finish from three years ago.

Barty stands to maintain her unblemished record in Slam finals and should she do so, would become only the second active woman after Serena Williams to win majors across three surfaces.

Past Grand Slam triumphs seep into the psyche as a reassurance that it can be done all over again, and the 25-year-old stands to repeat her defeats of four of the same seven women – including Collins – on the run to her maiden major at Roland Garros in 2019.

"She's an exceptional ball striker … I think the way she's able to control the baseline and really take the game on, she's one of the most fierce competitors out here," Barty said of her final foe. 

"She loves to get in your face and loves to really take it on."

Barty knows what to expect from the heavy-hitting American

After a tumultuous year, in which she required emergency surgery for endometriosis last April and suffered an abdominal injury at Roland Garros, Collins – who will make her top-10 debut on Monday – is intent on making the most of the moment.

While the pair split a pair of showdowns in Adelaide in the past two seasons, the American knew she would be working against a larger parochial crowd this time.

"I realise that there is going to be a lot of people supporting Ash. It's all in good spirit," Collins said. 

"I think every time we played we have battled, and they have been some really fun matches. Even the matches that I have lost have been some of my most memorable moments on court because of the way we were battling and going back and forth.

"Something I really admire about Ash's game is her variety, you know, playing a different game style than pretty much all of the players on tour. There is not too many that use the slice backhand the way that she does, and, you know, have the big serve the way that she does."

Barty understood what it meant to a host nation to end any sporting drought.

When pressed on that pub trivia fact on the eve of her campaign, she remained as grounded as ever. 

"I can't do any more than I can try. That's all I can do. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen," she said. 

"I just have to hope that everyone understands that I'm giving it my best crack. 

"It doesn't always work out exactly how you want to. But you go about it the right way, you do the right things and try and give yourself the best chance, that's all you can do."