'She's playing at the top of her game' - John McEnroe feels Ash Barty can end long wait for home Australian Open win
“I'd be surprised if she doesn't feel pressure and that you don't see at some point, I don't know when it will be if it's going to be early in the match or it's going to be towards the latter part when she's trying to finish the match off or if say she got behind and at some point in the first set how she'll handle that.”
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Chris O’Neil was the last Australian to lift a singles title, way back in 1978. Since then, only Wendy Turnbull (1980), Kim Warwick (1980), Pat Cash (1987, 1988) and Lleyton Hewitt (2005) have reached the final.
Pressure will be on Barty, but John McEnroe believes she could feed off the energy of the crowd.
“I think that she's gonna feel pressure and she's gonna try to use the fans to help her if she needs to,” McEnroe said. “Seems like the mix is working perfectly so far. She has talked about feeling great about playing in front of Australians.
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“I'd be surprised if she doesn't feel pressure and that you don't see at some point, I don't know when it will be if it's going to be early in the match or it's going to be towards the latter part when she's trying to finish the match off, or if she got behind at some point in the first set and how she'll handle that.”
Since winning the French Open in 2019, it’s been viewed by many that an Australian Open would follow.
Defeats in the semi-finals and quarter-finals in 2020 and 2021 respectively deflated expectation to an extent, but she arrived at Melbourne Park in 2022 in top form and high on confidence.
The No. 1 seeding added another layer of expectation, but she has handled it superbly over the course of the past two weeks.
Twelve sets played, 12 sets won. And such has been Barty’s dominance, she lost only 21 games over the course of six rounds.
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“She should feel great and she's playing at the top of her game,” McEnroe said. “So everything points to her winning this in two sets, truthfully.
"For the most part she's done a great job. Obviously at the US Open, she didn't do that great a job. But that was also because she'd been away from home for six, eight months and I think that was getting to her. And this is just my opinion.
“You saw that she stopped playing pretty much the last three, four months of the year. So she seems like she's got a renewed sense of feeling good on the tennis court and that's not good news for her opponents. So she's been able to be in Australia, do her thing and she looks to be very comfortable and confident. So she's going to be very difficult to beat.”
Danielle Collins stands between Barty and greatness. McEnroe is hugely impressed with his fellow American, and believes she has the mindset to combat a partisan crowd.
“I am impressed by her and no, I wouldn't have bet on her at the beginning of the Australian Open,” McEnroe said of Collins. “I don't know a lot about her. However, I've watched her the last three, four years and she's one of the most intense competitors I've seen.
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“She brings up fire and an intensity to a court that I think has intimidated a lot of players. And I think she's learned from her experiences on the tour and her ups and downs. You know, missing time when you miss time and you get to deal with injuries, you come back, you appreciate things more.
“Things have sort of fallen her way in the draw for her. But I've always loved the way she competed and I think that's her greatest weapon, her ability to battle even when things look bleak and this is a tremendous effort for her.
"The pressure is not on her now. She can just go out and she hasn't been in a Grand Slam final but you know, everyone's expecting Barty to beat her. So to me she can go out and swing freely and sort of maybe pull off a shock upset.”
McEnroe feels Barty is the strong favourite, but says Collins can take hope from the surprise results in the women’s game in recent seasons.
“I do think Barty is going to win,” McEnroe said. “She's playing phenomenally well; her service. She's only 5 feet 6 I think and she's just unbelievable how well she's been holding up on her serve and she's just run through this tournament with almost no problem. So you almost half expected at some point she's going to start to go off her game a little bit. And Collins is the type of player that can throw you off.
“So if she's not overwhelmed and sort of just appreciates the moment, I think she's got a shot.
“I wouldn't pick her to win it. But I don't think it's out of the question she could win. Look what's happened the last three, four years in women's tennis, I mean everywhere you turn there's someone that's come out of the blue. Look at the US Open. Do you want to tell me what the odds of [Emma] Raducanu and [Leylah] Fernandez getting to the final? It was probably like 10 million to one. So there's no reason she could not do something that's unexpected.”
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