ADELAIDE, Australia - Roared on by a vociferous home crowd, No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty held off the relentless power of the unseeded Danielle Collins to reach the Adelaide International final 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5) after one hour and 55 minutes.
It is the third win for Barty, who displayed all of her renowned strategic nous to come back after being initially outgunned, out of three encounters with the American, and the third year in a row that she has reached a final in the second week of the season.
Having been runner-up in Sydney to Angelique Kerber in 2018 and Petra Kvitova last year, the Australian will be seeking to finally get her hands on a trophy on home soil against Dayana Yastremska tomorrow. Collins, meanwhile, drops to a 0-4 career record in WTA semifinals - and despite coming within three points of her maiden final today, that milestone will have to wait.
"I think I worked hard tonight, and we got the result that we're after," Barty said after the match. "I felt like I had a lot of clarity with what I wanted to do, and Danielle has the ability to take the match out of your hands a little bit.
"You saw that many times during that match. She was on top of the rallies and inside the court, and I think I was able to shift court position a lot better in the second set, make a lot more balls, particularly when I was defending, and just kind of try and push her over the edge that little bit more.
"The third was a tussle, without a doubt, but I think that's what you kind of expect in big matches like that."
26-year-old Collins has turned heads with several eviscerating scorelines against top opposition this year, from her 6-1, 6-1 rout of Elina Svitolina in Brisbane to her 6-3, 6-1 dismissals of Sofia Kenin and Belinda Bencic this week - and she opened against the World No.1 in similar fashion. A barrage of first-strike tennis left Barty flailing as Collins leaped out to a quick 3-0 lead, one which she would maintain through the rest of the set.
The Roland Garros champion would have one chance to get back in the set when she held 0-40 on Collins' serve in the seventh game - but the World No.27 slammed that door shut by rattling off five straight points with a serve and forehand, the two shots that best characterized the brutal opening act.
Barty's ability to make mid-match tactical adjustments and to find ways of gradually turning momentum around has been one of the hallmarks of her reign at the top of the sport, though, and this was precisely what ensued in the second set. Taking advantage as Collins' first serve percentage dipped from 76% to 48%, Barty was able to extend more points into longer rallies, where she would effectively use her knifing slice to throw Collins off-balance while deploying clever counterpunching to turn defense into attack.
At the same time, Barty's serve was improving to somewhere near its best. Her own first serve percentage rose over the course of the match from 52% in the first set to 59% in the second and 69% in the decider, as did her ace tally - from two to five to seven. Three of those came in one game as Barty tightened her grip on a one-sided set with a 5-0 lead - and although two baseline blows from Collins avoided two set points for the bagel, a decider was inevitable.
A series of rapid-fire holds, punctuated briefly by an exchange of two quick breaks in the seventh and eighth games, ensued in the third set, which did not see a single deuce game as both players raced towards a deciding tiebreak. A return winner had seemed to put Barty in the driver's seat as she broke for 4-3, but some breathtaking pace from the Collins backhand had immediately erased the lead with a break back.
"I missed I think four first serves in that game, and that just gives her court position instantly. It's a meter and a half change of where she's starting and striking the first ball," Barty assessed.
"I didn't miss my serves by much, but giving someone a look at four, five second serves in a game isn't good enough. I paid the price for that."
Appropriately after a passage of play with nothing to choose between either player, the tiebreak would be decided by the finest of margins. Ultimately, Barty's defense and canny placement was now eliciting just enough errors from Collins for the WTA Finals champion to edge into the lead - and though a characteristically bold return winner from the unseeded player saved one match point, the Barty slice would draw a backhand error on the second to put the home favorite into the final.
"Obviously, it was an exceptional crowd out there. You know, it was probably my first real taste of obviously some adrenaline late in matches," Barty continued. "I think that's what we're after is to try to practice those things as best that we can, but I felt like I did what I wanted to do well tonight and got over the line in the end."
The World No.1 advances to her third career final on home soil, having twice been runner-up at the Sydney International in 2018 and 2019, and will look to cool off a red-hot Dayana Yastremska to lift her first trophy in Australia.
"Hopefully, it's a third time lucky at home for me, I think. It's about putting yourself out there each week, trying to bring the best that you can," Barty said.
"I'm looking forward to the match tomorrow, obviously. Dayana is an exceptional ball striker, as well. She wants to be inside the court. She craves that court position and thrives when she's ahead.
"It's about me trying to keep as much scoreboard pressure as I can, and I think it's still sticking to the way I want to play. It doesn't really change too much for who my opponent is. It's about me trying to bring the game style back to kind of the Ash Barty brand that I want to play.
"The last two years, I have been close, and agonizingly close last year, but the two finals I lost, I played great tennis. I lost to quality opponents.
"Tomorrow potentially is no different. All I have to do is go out there and try and do the best that I can. If it ends with a title, great. If it doesn't, it's not really going to change my mood too much going into the rest of the year and particularly the next few weeks."