Australian Open 2022: Serena Williams’ absence from Melbourne Park could prove helpful for world No.1 Ash Barty’s title cause
Serena Williams’ Australian Open withdrawal promises to be a boon for world No.1 Ash Barty’s bid to break a 43-year title drought for local women.
The 40-year-old American megastar joined her 2019 US Open final conqueror, Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, as the biggest names not coming to Melbourne Park on the women’s side.
Williams hasn’t played competitively since suffering a torn hamstring and retiring from her Wimbledon opener almost six months ago.
She won the last of her 23 grand slam singles titles at the 2017 Australian Open – leaving her one short of Australian legend Margaret Court – but has been a finalist four times since.
Williams reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park this year and still remains a major threat whenever she takes the court.
The tournament’s significant loss could end up being Barty’s gain.
The seven-time Australian Open champion boasts a 2-0 record against Barty, who was the WTA’s player of the year in 2021 after being the year-end No.1 for the third season in a row.
Barty clinched two grand slam titles in that time, the 2019 French Open and this year’s Wimbledon championships, to emphatically address any critics of her standing in the sport.
But going all the way at home has so far proven elusive, as it has for a series of Australian greats in the past four decades.
Barty reached at least the quarter-finals at the past three Australian Opens, including advancing to the semi-finals in 2020, when she bowed out to eventual winner Sofia Kenin in a heart-breaking defeat.
Sam Stosur, Alicia Molik and Jelena Dokic were all top-10 staples at the height of their careers but none was considered as great a title hope in Melbourne as Barty.
The back-breaking pressure that many Australians succumbed to before her doesn’t appear to impact the 25-year-old quite as much.
Barty’s won singles titles leading into the past two Australian Opens.
She will also be fresh after skipping the rest of the WTA season following her surprise third-round exit at the US Open to Shelby Rogers.
But don’t expect any big statements from Barty on what it would mean to succeed 1978 winner Chris O’Neil as the country’s most-recent Australian Open women’s singles champion.
Her attitude towards questions about whether she can win a grand slam title in Melbourne were summed up in February, when she was asked if she had any extra expectations at home.
“Not my own. Maybe from you guys. But that’s on you – that’s not on me,” a smiling Barty said.
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