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Ash Barty misses chance of a lifetime to win Australian Open

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Barty's niece helps her smile despite semifinal defeat (1:36)

Ashleigh Barty's niece brought some cheer to the press room after Barty crashed out of the Australian Open. (1:36)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Ashleigh Barty's head had dropped, her eyes locked on the blue Rod Laver Arena court before her forehand had landed long to give unheralded American Sofia Kenin a place in the Australian Open final. Barty knew it and everyone in the stadium knew it; a golden opportunity to make the final at her home Grand Slam had been lost.

At 6-4 up in the first set tiebreaker, the world No. 1 was a single point away from breaking the spirit of her 21-year-old opponent, who before this tournament in Melbourne had never reached the quarterfinals at a major. But in the space of four points, the match flipped on its head. Two mistakes off the Barty racket squared things up, the next two points gave the 14th seed the tiebreaker, 8-6. What had just happened?

They weren't the only two set points Barty would see. Serving at 5-4 and 40-15 in the second set, fans were readying themselves for a brief bathroom break and visit to the snack bar before a third-set decider, but once again the set points came and quickly disappeared. The Queenslander squandered the chance to square the match up, and seven minutes later it was all over.

Barty struck her forehand long, Kenin had dropped her racket and was shrieking in disbelief. The little-known American had knocked out the top seed from her home Slam, winning 7-6 (6), 7-5 to deny the Australian Open its first homegrown finalist in 15 years.

Within 60 seconds Barty had left the court, her dreams of winning at Melbourne Park put on hold for at least another 12 months. Naturally, you would think she would have cut a dejected figure when fronting the press barely 45 minutes later, but, strangely, she seemed unfazed by the day's events.

"I was two points away from winning in straight sets. It's disappointing, but I put myself in a position to win the match," Barty explained after the loss, while cradling niece Olivia. "But if you told me three weeks ago we'd win a tournament in Adelaide and make the semifinals of the Australian Open, I'd take that absolutely every single day of the week."

That may well have been the case before the Australian summer began, but Barty's expectations should have been recalculated after Day 5 at Melbourne Park.

In the space of three hours, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and pre-tournament favourite Naomi Osaka were out. It truly was a freaky Friday, and one that had left Barty with a great chance of ending Australia's 42-year drought for a local Australian Open champion. By the end of the day she was the new favourite for the title.

Everything continued to run exactly to script for Barty. She navigated her way through a tricky draw, one that featured a fourth-round match against her 2019 Wimbledon slayer, Alison Riske, and a quarterfinal against the dangerous Petra Kvitova.

But it all abruptly ended on Thursday afternoon, and one wonders if it's a match Barty might eventually regret.

Look at Lleyton Hewitt, former world No. 1 and the last Australian player to reach a semifinal at the Australian Open. When Hewitt lost to Marat Safin in the 2005 final, few would have believed at the time that he would never again reach the last eight in Australia. He was, as Barty is now, 23 years of age.

Sure, Barty looks be a top player on the women's side for the next decade, but chances to win your home Slam don't come around all too often. So much has to fall into place at the right time for it to happen. So much has to click. Since 2001, only six players have achieved the feat, Andy Murray the only non-American.

"You don't get these opportunities every single week," Barty said of playing in a semifinal at her home Slam. "Like we do at the end of every tournament, [we will] debrief it, enjoy it, celebrate it."

Maybe not right now, maybe not next week, but possibly in time, you could add "rue it" to the list.