MELBOURNE - Shortly after booking a spot in an Australian Open semi-final for the second time, Ash Barty was on the phone to a close friend who had just achieved something even more remarkable on Tuesday night.
The reigning Wimbledon champion was on the verge of defeating Jessica Pegula 6-2 6-0 when Dylan Alcott was announced the Australian of the Year.
Alcott reached the quad wheelchair singles final earlier on Tuesday when beating Andy Lapthorne 6-3 6-0 and then flew to Canberra for a ceremony in his honour.
Barty, who will play another American Madison Keys in a semi-final on Thursday night, said the example set by the quad wheelchair champion was inspirational.
"What an incredible human being he is. He is an incredible athlete, second, but absolutely just an incredible man first," she said.
"The way he has impacted a whole nation has been absolutely remarkable and I could not be more rapt for him to be the Australian of the Year."
Barty is now within two victories of another defining moment in her career after a dominant display against Pegula.
The American was a quarter-finalist last year and entered the match with a straight-sets win over Maria Sakkari. But she was blitzed by Barty, who won the last nine games of the match.
"I think she's definitely living in everyone's head a little bit," Pegula said.
The world number one, who is seeking to become the first local since Chris O'Neil in 1978 to win the Australian Open, is yet to drop a set in this tournament.
The Australian walked on to Rod Laver Arena to a rousing reception, despite the stadium court being below the 50% capacity it is restricted to due to COVID-19 guidelines.
The crowd had just celebrated the elevation of past Australian legends Maud Margaret Molesworth and Joan Hartigan into the nation's tennis Hall of Fame.
But it was the modern-day champion they wanted to see excel and the local favourite delivered.
Barty is expecting a testing battle against Keys, who played superbly earlier on Tuesday when defeating reigning French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 6-3 6-2.
She has won two of her three outings against Keys, with the most recent in a quarter-final at Roland Garros in 2019, the year she claimed the title.
The 25-year-old is delighted that the former U.S. Open finalist, who has suffered mental health and injury issues, has regained her best form.
"It is so nice to have Maddy back playing her best tennis. She deserves to be at the top of our game," Barty said.
The dual major winner was heavily favoured when edged by eventual champion Sofia Kenin in a semi-final of the Australian Open two years ago. She feels like a superior player now.
"I have grown as a person. I have grown as a player. I feel like I am a more complete player," Barty said.
"I have a couple of more years of experience under my belt in handling different experiences and problem solving out on the court." (Reporting by Courtney Walsh; editing by Alex Richardson, Jon Boyle and Christian Radnedge)