Finalist Barty living out her Open dream

Ash Barty says she’s living out a childhood dream after sweeping past Madison Keys in straight sets to become the first home hope to reach the Australian Open women’s singles final in 42 years.

The world No.1 and dual grand slam champion crushed Keys 6-1 6-3 on Thursday night to bury the demons of her shattering 2020 semi-final defeat to fellow American Sofia Kenin.

The first Australian to make the women’s Open title match since Wendy Turnbull in 1980, Barty delivered another serving masterclass on Rod Laver Arena to see off Keys in just 62 minutes.

The 25-year-old’s last hurdle in her quest to become the first local Open singles champion since Chris O’Neil in 1978 will be resurgent American world No.30 Danielle Collins on Saturday night.

“It’s unreal. Honestly, it is just incredible,” Barty said.

“To be in the finals weekend of your home grand slam is what a lot of Aussie players dream of.

“I love this tournament, love coming out here and playing in Australia and, as an Aussie, we are exceptionally spoiled that we are a grand slam nation (and) we get to play in our backyard and I am just happy that I get to play my best tennis here.

“I enjoy it, I’ve done well before and now we have a chance to play for a title. It’s unreal.”

And the top seed can once again thank her imperious serve for setting up the 10th victory of her glorious unbeaten summer.

Remarkably, Barty has dropped only one of her past 82 service games since her opening match of the year against Coco Gauff in Adelaide almost four weeks ago.

“I just feel really clear on my service games,” she said.

“I have a lot of trust in my game, have a lot of trust in my serve.

“Even tonight I feel like I gave Maddie a lot of looks at second serves. I didn’t quite have my rhythm on the first serve but, when I needed it most, it was there.”

Looking untouchable, Barty is yet to drop a set all tournament and has conceded just 21 games in 12 near-flawless matches in the most dominant run to the final since Steffi Graf in 1989.

Collins booked her date with destiny with an equally impressive 6-4 6-1 dispatch of seventh-seeded Iga Swiatek in the second semi.

Barty holds a 2-1 winning record over Collins but lost their most recent meeting – in Adelaide last year the week after the world No.1’s shock Open quarter-final loss to Karolina Muchova.

“Danielle has done incredibly well here in Australia before,” Barty said.

“The way she’s able to control the baseline and really take the game on, she’s one of the most fierce competitors out here.

“It’s going to be an incredible experience come Saturday. I can’t wait to go out there and enjoy it.”

Barty made a flying start to Thursday’s historic first women’s night-time semi-final, producing a brilliant running forehand pass to break Keys in the opening game.

She typically had no such troubles on her serve, rocketing down an ace on her very first delivery of the match and holding to love for a 2-0 lead.

The Wimbledon champion broke Keys for a second time in the fifth game, then a third time in the seventh game on the way to wrapping up the first set in 27 minutes.

Contesting her fourth grand slam semi-final, and second in Australia, Keys, the 2017 US Open runner-up, offered more resistance in the second set.

But there was no denying Barty as the hot title favourite repeated her 2019 French Open quarter-final triumph over the big-hitting American en route to her maiden grand slam title in Paris.

© AAP 2022

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Australia honours community champions

Australia’s golden performance at last year’s Tokyo Olympics has drawn a string of awards in the 2022 Australia Day honours.

Multiple gold medal-winning swimmer Emma McKeon was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), while other stars such as slalom canoeist Jess Fox, skateboarder Keegan Palmer and swimmers Ariarne Titmus and Kaylee McKeown were awarded Medals of the Order of Australia (OAM).

As per recent tradition, all gold medallists have received an award, outside of some who have already won them for previous Olympic triumphs.

They were not the only sportspeople to be honoured.

Wheelchair tennis champion Dylan Alcott was named the Australian of the Year for 2022 late on Tuesday. He was also appointed an Officer of the Order (AO) for his distinguished service to Paralympic sport and for his work as a role model for people with disability, and to the wider community.

“Winning grand slams and gold medals isn’t my purpose,” he told an audience gathered in Canberra to see his Australian of the Year presentation.

“My purpose is changing perceptions so people like me can get out there and live the lives they deserve to live.”

Fellow athlete, basketball player Patty Mills, was awarded an AM for leading the Boomers to bronze at the Olympics and his Indigenous leadership.

Meanwhile, a number of scientists have been recognised in the honours system including former chief scientist Alan Finkel, who picked up the highest honour in being made a Companion of the Order (AC).

Dr Finkel, one of seven people to be made ACs this year, received the award for his work across a range of fields include energy innovation, climate change and COVID-19 response initiatives.

Other scientist ACs include James Dale who has developed a range of genetically modified bananas and Jennifer Graves for evolutionary genetics research.

Some 58 people were recognised for their efforts in Australia’s pandemic response, with those to be added to an ongoing and permanent COVID-19 honour roll.

Other notable names on the honours list include: singer Delta Goodrem (AM), mining magnate Gina Rinehart (AO), cook and food author Maggie Beer (AO), former NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons (AO) and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims (AO).

Of the 732 awards in the general division, 47 per cent were given to women, the largest percentage of female recipients since the honours system was introduced in 1975.

The recipients’ ages range from 17 to 99 years old, while 45 per cent of awards are for outstanding service in the community.

Some 30 awards were given in the Military Division along with 197 Meritorious awards and 81 Distinguished and Conspicuous awards.

© AAP 2022

Alex de Minaur bows out of Australian Open

Alex de Minaur cut a forlorn and frustrated figure after making a familiar exit from the Australian Open, this time at the hands of emerging superstar Jannik Sinner.

Local hope De Minaur, who beat world No.7 Matteo Berrettini this month at the ATP Cup in Sydney, dropped just one set at Melbourne Park en route to the fourth round and again threatened to go deep into his home slam.

But the 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 6-4 defeat to Sinner on Monday night marked the sixth time de Minaur has exited a major tournament in the third or fourth round, including his last three appearances at Melbourne Park.

The 22-year-old’s sole grand slam quarter-final appearance to date came at the 2020 US Open.

“I had some good results and it was a little bit of a bittersweet ending,” de Minaur said.

“I didn’t want my Australian Open campaign to be done tonight, but it’s just how it went.

“I had my chances and didn’t take my opportunities, those break points early and I came up against an opponent that played very well.

“He played some very good tennis in the important moments.”

Australian No.1 De Minaur prepared for “immense firewpower” from Sinner and copped plenty of it.

The rising world No.10 – still just 20 years of age – got through a first-set tiebreaker and blasted 35 winners to reach his second grand slam quarter-final.

De Minaur tried to mount a late challenge, breaking back to trail 3-4 in the third set but the damage had been done.

The Sydneysider made 37 unforced errors to the Italian’s 30, and created eight break points but was only able to capitalise on one.

“I had break points in the first game of the second set and I didn’t convert again,” de Minaur said.

“Up to that point I was 0-6 on break points and he started to lift his level as the court got shade.

“There was no more sun so he was really able to hit the ball through the court a lot more and we all know the amazing firepower that he has.”

De Minaur will head to Europe for next month’s Rotterdam Open before a possible return to Australia in March for the Davis Cup qualifying round against Hungary.

“It’s been a good start to the season bringing in some good momentum and I came up short today but I’m happy with where my level is going,” de Minaur said.

“It’s definitely a big improvement from last year and I’m excited for what’s to come.”

The ruthless Sinner is unbeaten for the year, having won all his matches at the ATP Cup and racing through to the Open quarter-finals for the loss of just one set.

He will meet either fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or American Taylor Fritz in the last eight as he eyes a first grand slam semi-final appearance.

© AAP 2022

Two hospitalised after e-scooter, skateboard crashes on Gold Coast

Electric transport devices have landed two people in hospital on the Gold Coast overnight.

Just before 7.30pm on Sunday, emergency crews were called to Currumin Waters following reports a man had fallen off his e-scooter.

Upon arrival, they found a man in his 40s suffering various minor injuries after crashing the scooter along Galleon Way.

He was treated at the scene by paramedics before being taken to the Gold Coast University Hospital in a stable condition.

Just 10 minutes later, emergency crews were called to the northern Gold Coast after a man in his 30s fell off an electric skateboard in Upper Coomera.

It happened along Taryn Court around 7.35pm.

The man suffered suspected chest and head injuries and was also taken to the Gold Coast University Hospital in a stable condition.

Jobless rate lowest since August 2008

Australia’s unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped to 4.2 per cent in December from 4.6 per cent the previous month, its lowest level since August 2008.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said 64,800 people joined the workforce in December in a further recovery from last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT.

“Recovery in NSW and Victoria continued to have a large influence on the national figures, with employment in these two states increasing by 32,000 and 25,000 people between November and December,” ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said.

This takes employment back to where it was in May for these two states.

Mr Jarvis said the latest report provides an indication of the state of the labour market in the first two weeks of December, before the large increase in virus cases later in the month.

BIS Oxford Economics chief economist Sarah Hunter said experience from overseas suggests the impact of the Omicron variant will be significant but short-lived, and less economically damaging than previous waves.

“Overall, the unemployment rate is set to remain below 4.5 per cent this year, and with businesses still looking to add staff this will create further upward pressure on wages and domestic inflationary pressure,” Dr Hunter said.

“Today’s data reinforces our view that the RBA will tighten the cash rate much earlier than they are currently signalling.”

At 4.2 per cent it is the lowest since August 2008 and just before the start of the global financial crisis when it was 4.0 per cent.

Economists had predicted the jobless rate falling to 4.5 per cent in December.

The fall in the unemployment rate is far quicker than the Reserve Bank of Australia had been expecting.

In its most recent economic forecasts released in November, the RBA had predicted an unemployment rate of 4.75 per cent by the end of 2021 and only at 4.5 per cent in the middle of 2022.

Separately, new data showed that while Australians had intended to spend big heading into 2022, there are already signs those expectations won’t be met due to the impact of Omicron.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s household spending intentions index rose 2.5 per cent in December, its highest level since the survey began in July 2017.

The biggest gains were in travel, transport and retail sectors.

The index combines an analysis of CBA payments data, loan applications and publicly available search activity on Google Trends.

CBA senior economist Belinda Allen said household spending data for December showed a sustained recovery from the Delta lockdowns, fuelled by accumulated household savings estimated at some $260 billion.

“The boost in the travel and transport sector also reflect increased mobility around the country in December,” she said.

However, Omicron led to a surge in cases late in December and into January.

“We can see from our high frequency credit and debit card data there does appear to be a fall in spending in January, with spending on services more impacted than goods spending,” she said.

© AAP 2022