The Australian Open has seen some major upsets heading into the quarterfinals. With Naomi Osaka out for the count, crowd favorite Ash Barty has one less obstacle to contend with, but it’s not a home run yet.
Defending champion Naomi Osaka exited the Aussie Open a little prematurely to what fans were expecting or hoping for, and the dynamic of favorites has thus shifted as a result. Surprisingly enough, most of the remaining players are seeking their very first Australian Open title, particularly Ash Barty who is in red-hot form having not dropped a single set thus far. Players sharing this awesome feat include Iga Swiatek and Simona Halep, both of whom are also contenders for the championship title.
We know all too well the difference that a supportive home crowd can make for a tennis player’s energy, motivation, and confidence during a match, take Nick Kygrios for example who practically thrives on the cheers of his country’s people. Likewise, Ash Barty will have the support of a loud and enthusiastic audience all the way through, and that alone could give her an advantage over the other favorites. Of course, Barty’s status as the current world No.1 and her generally likable personality and professional demeanour are huge factors that will continue to contribute to her support and favouritism at Melbourne Park as she draws in local and international fans alike.
Can passion trump experience?
The main contenders for the title this year are seemingly split between passionate youths in hot form and seasoned veterans showing their experience. Despite the age gaps and different stages in the careers of each of these players, what Barty, Swiatek and Halep all have in common is that none have dropped a set for the first three rounds at the Australian Open and were all strong candidates for the title.
Oftentimes, it takes a good mixture of youthful passion combined with a dose of experience and enough years under your belt to become a well-rounded tennis player. At 25 years of age, Ash Barty is very much at that ‘sweet spot’ where she can push herself physically to all-time heights for her career while also leveraging on her incredible portfolio of WTA title wins and Grand Slam championship experiences. Swiatek may have the flair to contend the title, but her accumulated experience on the big stage simply pales in comparison to the likes of Ash Barty and Simona Halep, both of whom have enjoyed the world No.1 rank for extended periods of time in their respective careers.
Things are indeed looking positive for Ash Barty, but we cannot count Simona Halep out of the equation, particularly since her fiery return after recovering from injuries that have compromised her performance for the last couple of years. Additionally, while she has more titles and experience under her belt than Barty due to being in the game longer, Halep is still somebody who can contend with Barty on a physical level even now. The Romanian has proved this through her exceptional form since the start of the 2022 season, and it’s clear her mindset is in a good place as she “has no plans for retirement” despite an already impressive career thus far.
Simona Halep’s secret trump card
Something that often is not spoken of enough is that tennis players thrive even more when they truly enjoy the sport and, at least to a certain extent, “have fun” during their matches. For sure, tennis is more than a sport for a professional player and is practically a full-time job so to speak, and like any job, we can’t expect to be enjoying every aspect of it all the time, particularly if work is getting tough or repetitive. In a similar way to how we may deliver a speech or presentation more effectively when we are relaxed and nonchalant about the outcome, tennis players may perform better without the pressure of meeting a certain expectation or with their “legacy” on the line.
The reason I’ve brought this up is that there could be a direct correlation to the battle of favorites for the Australian Open, namely the case of Ash Barty vs. Simona Halep for the title. At the seasoned age of 30, Simona Halep has stated she “sees tennis differently” at this stage in her life, alluring to an increased joyous and relaxed approach to her game. Kicking off the year fresh and free from injury, Halep secured the Melbourne Summer Set title quite easily, having only dropped a single set, and she is now piercing through the Australian Open draw with convincing results.
Ash Barty’s unseen challenges
Of course, Ash Barty has all the firepower to go all the way at the Aussie Open, particularly with unshakable crowd support from locals and across the globe, not to mention her own awesome form. Like Halep, Barty also kicked off the 2022 season with a title win in Australia, securing the Adelaide International in a similar fashion to the Romanian by only dropping one set en route. It feels almost certain that Barty and Halep will eventually clash at Melbourne Park, but what are some of the obstacles standing in the young Australian’s way?
As mentioned, Barty and Halep are at significantly different stages in their careers, so it won’t be surprising to hear that they will have unique challenges to deal with as they progress through the tournament. Unlike Halep, Barty is still in the process of crafting her legacy, and while she is already well-accomplished, her younger age and unwavering determination for tennis greatness mean she has a lot more to give to the sport and plenty more to achieve for herself. While this could be a great driving force for Barty and a source of motivation and energy, it is also a double-edged sword because of the pressure that comes along with that.
The expectations on her shoulders as the world No.1 coupled with an enormous fan base that simply doesn’t want to be let down are ingredients for insurmountable pressure that Halep is free from. It is the burden of expectation, and it all comes down to whether the Aussie can harness her sources of motivation and drive in a positive manner and use her legacy and home crowd support to uplift herself rather than be weighed down. Should Ash Barty and Simona Halep meet on the court, it will be a contest between a passionate world No.1 fighting for her country as well as her own legacy, and a seasoned professional who has discovered a newfound love for the sport. Who’s your favorite to win the Australian Open title?
I think Krejikova has to be in the mix as well. She’s looking pretty good.