Australian Open 2018: Home hope Ashleigh Barty thriving under the pressure ahead of season opening slam

Playing in your house nation will be robust. Sam Stosur, a former US Open champion and world No Four who was for therefore lengthy the standard-bearer for ladies’s tennis Down Under, has by no means gone past the fourth spherical in 15 appearances at her dwelling Grand Slam match right here at the Australian Open.

When you think about that Ashleigh Barty, Stosur’s successor as Australian No 1, gave up the sport for 18 months after apparently wilting under the pressure of life on tour, you may need anticipated that the 21-year-old Queenslander would additionally wrestle with the weight of expectation in her homeland.

So far, nonetheless, the world No 19 seems to be relishing the expertise. A run to the third spherical of final yr’s Australian Open helped launch a outstanding comeback and Barty has been cementing her place in her followers’ affections this week at the Sydney International. A Three-6, 6-Four, 6-2 victory on Friday over Daria Gavrilova despatched Barty into tomorrow’s ultimate and underlined the good kind she has discovered going into the Australian Open, which begins right here on Monday.

This week’s triumphs adopted a fantastic sequence of leads to 2017, which Barty began ranked No 325 in the world, having begun her “second” profession in the sport the earlier summer time.

Barty was an excellent prospect when she gained the ladies’ title at Wimbledon in 2011 and was quickly knocking on the door of the world’s high 100, however after the 2014 US Open she walked away from tennis. Instead she turned to cricket and performed for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League, Australia’s home Twenty20 competitors.

“I had my break for certain reasons, personal reasons,” Barty mentioned.  “I think it was just that I knew in myself that was what I needed.  If I was going to play tennis, if I wasn’t going to play tennis, for me that didn’t matter.  I just needed to take a break and mentally refresh and restart.”

She added: “For me, it was a no-brainer to take a break. Where I was in my life, at that stage, it was the only way for me to have a possible career in tennis, if that makes sense. I just knew I needed to step back and refresh.  It was a really, really good 18 months of my life.  I was able to relax and just enjoy.  I feel like I’m much better for it now.”

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The 21-year-old is presently ranked 19th in the world (Getty)

Barty loved being out of the private highlight. “I had never played a team sport when I was younger,” she mentioned.  “I think the group of girls that I played with were a really genuine group.  They just made it a really good time.”

Having stop tennis, Barty had taken a cellphone name from a physiotherapist working with the Australian ladies’s group. “I knew her from when I was 10 or 11 years old,” Barty mentioned.

“She simply known as me and mentioned: ‘The Aussie girls are up here for a training camp.  Do you want to come out to dinner?’  I used to be like: ‘Yeah, sure, I’ll come and meet up with just a few of them, share just a few totally different experiences.’

“Then they invited me to a training session.  I had a bit of a bat and a bowl, tested out a few of the skills.  The Queensland team just kept inviting me back.”

Barty had “never really held a real cricket bat” earlier than and her solely expertise of the sport had been “mucking around in the backyard” with a tennis ball.

“It was an exciting challenge,” she mentioned. “I think the girls in the group could have easily just dismissed me and left me on my own, but they welcomed me with open arms and made me feel a lot more comfortable.”

Although Barty mentioned she was “very mediocre” in any respect elements of cricket, she insisted it had been “a good experience”.

One factor Barty had missed most throughout her spell out of tennis was spending time along with her fellow Australian participant, Casey Dellacqua, who ultimately helped to influence her to return.

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Barty in motion for Queensland towards South Australia (Getty)

“Casey is like a big sister to me when we’re travelling,” Barty mentioned.  “I did not know that I used to be going to start out enjoying once more till I went and noticed her.  We had a success, simply went out for a bit of a success and giggle.  She was getting back from a bit of a tough interval she had as effectively.

 I simply wanted to take a break and mentally refresh and restart

Ashleigh Barty

“So it was good to see her again, to see my mates. Tennis has been a part of my life since I was five years old.  It felt natural for me to come back eventually.”

While she had loved enjoying a group sport, Barty mentioned it was the particular person nature of tennis that she discovered most interesting. “You love the competitive one-on-one aspect, where you look across the net and you’re trying to beat your opponent,” she mentioned.  “You’re doing everything you physically can to win on that day.  I think every single girl in the locker room is super-competitive and that’s why we’re here.”

Barty started her comeback two summers in the past at the Aegon International in Eastbourne, the place she reached the semi-finals. By the following February her first WTA title in Kuala Lumpur had taken her into the world’s high 100. She reached the finals at Eastbourne and Wuhan and by the finish of the yr was in the world’s high 20, whereas in doubles Barty and Dellacqua grew to become the first all-Australian pair to make the French Open ultimate for 46 years.

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Barty begins her Australian Open marketing campaign towards Aryna Sabalenka (Getty)

“She’s a great player,” Johanna Konta mentioned this week. “She’s been playing better and better. It was very impressive and incredible what she did last year, having not played for a bit of time and taken time away from the sport.”

Stosur believes that one of Barty’s greatest strengths is her tennis mind. “We spent a little bit of time together playing Fed Cup,” Stosur mentioned. “She all the time had a very good tennis head. We could be speaking about whoever it was we have been enjoying towards and she or he would say: ‘I played her and she does this, this and this. When I did this, she didn’t like that.’

“She’s actually analytical and picks up totally different performs from totally different gamers actually rapidly. I feel she reads tennis rather well.

“She’s got every shot that you need out on court. She’s comfortable slicing, she can hit a big first serve, she can kick her second serve. She’s a very talented player. She’s got everything. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

Barty places her latest progress right down to maturity. “I’ve been in the situations a few times when I was younger, so I’m able to handle them a little bit better now,” she mentioned.  “I feel like I’m stronger on the court.  My game’s more complete.  I’ve moved in the right direction.”


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