If the federal election established this as the time of the quiet Australian, quiet and surprising, there she was in excelsis at Roland Garros on Saturday night, nursing the French Open trophy. All that was lacking was a stubbie holder for it.
Ash Barty embodies so much of the way we like to think about ourselves. There's her face, so round and open, so guileless. There's her attitude, so unassuming. She's athletic, but squat, which covers off on a few of us (the squat, that is). She doesn't dress or make up to impress. She wears a bloody baseball cap!
There's no airs or artifice at all. When back in Queensland, she ritually meets her old coach for a steak at Brisbane's iconic Breakfast Creek hotel. It's always the Brekky Creek, always a steak. She's not just Australian, but a Queenslander, as recognisable as the house.
Barty is not just us, but a throwback to us. She could have stepped out of a D'Arcy Doyle painting. She's what country towns were. She plays cricket and golf as well as tennis, and doubles as well as singles (to be fair, so does Serena Williams). All in all, she'd prefer to be hitting a ball.
She's not a drama queen. It's sadly necessary to say this. She doesn't pout or posture the way Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic do. She doesn't throw tantrums. It's not fair to tar every other male Australian player with their brush, but they are the standard-bearers for their gender, and she is for hers, and there's no comparison.
When they fell out of love with tennis, they each stuck a finger up at it. When Barty fell a bit out of love with tennis, she went and played cricket. Rather well. Tomic kept saying he was going to win a major one day. Barty didn't say anything. She just won a major.
She's fond of an emoji. After her epic semi-final, she posted on Instagram a pic of herself leaning exhaustedly on the net, with an emoji of a roller-coaster. It was so her. It is so, we hope, us.
Barty is part-Indigenous. This makes her a bit less of an Australian everywoman, but only a bit. A parent from each culture, one indigenous, one Anglo, it's the same bloodlines as Adam Goodes. That'll do us. All of us, hopefully.
Barty is archtypically Australian down to the detail that she doesn't much like clay, has had little practice on it, doesn't see herself as a clay court player. This is the long Australian tradition. No Australian woman had won the French since 1973, no man since 1969. Even as court surfaces became more homogenised, the French stayed out there in Australia's consciousness. Also Roger Federer's.
Barty was playing the claycourt season because it was what came next. The French Open would help to sharpen her up for Wimbledon, the true grail. Her parents wouldn't bother with Roland Garros, but wait for her in London. So, while they were waiting, she won the French Open, the championship of clay-courters. Just like that. When she rang her old coach sometime in the small hours of Sunday morning, it was to say just that: can you believe I won on clay?
So now another idea of Barty heaves into view. Ordinary should not be confused with unexceptional. She's one of us, but she's not. She's one of what we'd like to be. She's actually a bit of a genius. There are a few plain-acting, plain-speaking cheerful young women getting around the Australian tennis circuit, but there's only one Ash Barty.
Even she seems surprised at this, but should not be. In 2010, then Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald identified Barty as Australia's best prospect, man or woman, for 20 years. She'd just turned 14.
When Evonne Goolagong Cawley first saw her play the next year, she immediately saw the makings: that volley, that slice. They were raw then, but Cawley saw that they would serve her well on all surfaces. She said so. It's not that she could play on clay, it was that she could play on clay as well. She could play everywhere. Cawley said she could see a little of herself in Barty. Now everyone can.
That day to this, so much has changed, and so little. Those natural skills have been grooved and refined and are now a match for anyone. On Philippe Chatrier court, she had too much courtcraft for her teenaged Czech opponent Marketa Vondrouov and all the composure she needed for herself on this big stage. As Vondrousova so nobly said, she got a lesson. Ash Barty wasn't learning about clay, she was teaching on it.
Perhaps some cards fell Barty's way, but that's the least of it. In the knock-out format, luck might explain one win, even two, but not seven in a row. A charmed run might get you into the world's top 50, but not the top two.
What hasn't changed is the quintessential Barty. You could see that in the way she carried and conducted herself, before, during and after. She's grounded. We know where we'll find her tomorrow, on the practice courts. We know where we'll find her when she gets home: the Brekky Creek will have a bar stool set aside, we're sure.
Ash Barty is an extraordinary ordinary Australian. If we accept that in the Australian vernacular, "bloke" is a gender neutral word, and since "sheila" has fallen into disuse, then what Ash Barty is, is a good bloke. And now a great bloke.
Now, about that cap ...
- Greg Baum is chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age.