PERTH, Australia -- Australian women's tennis returned to centre stage on Saturday as team Australia, spear-headed by World No.1 Ash Barty, looked to end their 45-year Fed Cup title drought and were greeted with a record crowd.
Thirteen thousand people flooded the gates on Saturday morning, smashing the record for attendance of a women's tennis event, as Barty devastated France's Caroline Garcia 6-0, 6-0 after teammate Alja Tomljanovic succumbed to a nervous 6-1, 6-1 opening rubber loss to Kristina Mladenovic.
It's been twenty-six years since Australia last contested the Fed Cup title, leaving Australian tennis fans with little to cheer for for close to 30 years. With just Sam Stosur's 2011 US Open title and Barty's breakout French Open title in June the only Grand Slam singles wins since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980, Australia's return to the Fed Cup world stage has seen fans flooding back.
While Australia couldn't get the perfect start they hoped for with Tomljanovic falling in the opening match, Barty stood tall as she made easy work of Garcia, as she continues to almost single handedly bring Australian women's tennis back from the brink.
Just two years ago it was Barty who saved Australia from plummeting into the Fed Cup Asia/Pacific Group I, while in 2019 she remains unbeaten at 7-0 in Fed Cup rubbers and is on track to become the only player to win every match on her way to the Fed Cup title.
With 56 wins to her name on the WTA tour this year -- including 12 top ten wins -- Barty described her victory over Garcia as her best yet. Serving eight aces and securing 15 wins, the 23-year-old produced a demolition.
"Certainly from a complete point of view and having a complete game [it was the best]," Barty said following the match. "I felt like I served really well, I feel like I made a lot of returns which is always going to key.
"I think most importantly I played the big points well. There were still a few games where I really wanted to try and assert myself and I was able to do that really well today.
"I executed very well, I made Carro [Caroline Garcia] pretty uncomfortable. I felt like in the first three or four of my servus games I was in control of a lot of the points and Carro's the type of player that likes court position and she likes to be up in the court - so that was a key factor for me today. Then also it was probably the best I've returned in a long, long time."
The record crowd, many of whom were decked out in green and gold, were left quiet after Mladenovic made easy work of Tomljanovic, but were quick to their feet with the arrival of Barty on centre court.
A crowd favourite, Barty had RAC Arena roaring after she took an early 3-0 lead after seven minutes, before she closed out the opening set 6-0 in just 29 minutes. They gave Barty a standing ovation after she closed out the match in under an hour.
"I think Australians in general have a great support network around the world, I think Aussies love watching Aussies and supporting them, but it brings different spirit here as a player when you see so much green and gold," Team Australia captain Alicia Molik said following the match.
"Our team sat there for a while watching the crowd walk into the stadium, how happy how jovial everyone is to arrive at the stadium, excited to watch sport. That gives us a lot of energy, we love that.
"That to us means we're doing something right in women's tennis; people want to buy tickets, people want to come and watch our players compete and play. That's such a warm feeling for us."