Ashleigh Barty eyes Wimbledon glory from world No.1 spot

Posted at 5:01 AM, Jun 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-25 08:17:20-04

Ash Barty is on a roll and just doesn’t want to stop.

She won her first grand slam title at Roland Garros earlier this month, and has knocked Naomi Osaka of Japan off the top spot in the women’s world rankings.

Now, the 23-year-old Australian is bidding to become the first Australian women to win Wimbledon since her idol and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley won her second title in 1980.

“Evonne has been an incredible champion of our sport, she is the most genuine human being you’ll ever meet and even to be mentioned in the same conversation with her is a little bit mind-boggling to me,” said Barty, who is only the second Australian woman to occupy the No. 1 ranking and first since Goolagong Cawley in 1976.

“She has been an inspiration of mine, a mentor of mine, and a friend of mine, and anything that even goes close to what she achieved in her career would be unbelievable.”

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Love of grass

Barty’s 6-1 6-3 victory over Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova in Paris made her the first Australian to win the French Open since Margaret Court in 1973.

But completing the French Open-Wimbledon double is one of the toughest feats to achieve in tennis, as players have to make the transition from the high-bouncing clay to the low-bouncing grass.

The last player to win back-to-back titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon was Serena Williams in 2015.

However, Barty has form on the grass, as a junior Wimbledon champion at the age of 15 and a losing doubles finalist in 2013.

“I’ve never found the change from clay to grass too difficult,” said Barty, whose victory in a grass-court event in Birmingham, England Sunday took her to world No.1.

“I love the grass-court season, and I feel very comfortable on the grass court.”

She’s confident she can go beyond the third round in the main singles draw for the first time in her career.

“It’s a slam that I’ve had incredible success in through the juniors and through doubles,” she said.

“I would love to try and make a little bit of my own history, and do well in singles.”

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‘Finding myself’

In the past three weeks, Barty’s unusual path to tennis glory has captured the imagination of the international sporting world.

A child prodigy who was introduced to tennis by her parents when she was five years old, Barty reached world No.2 in junior tennis and was a two-time grand slam doubles finalist by the time she was 18.

But she struggled to cope with the loneliness of life on the women’s tour and battled with depression. Suffering from burn out and the weight of expectation, the young Australian walked away from tennis in 2014.

The following year, she joined the Brisbane Heat women’s cricket team in Australia for the inaugural 2015-16 Women’s Big Bash League. Although she was an outstanding player, she missed the competitive nature of tennis. After 14 months away, Barty returned to the women’s tour in 2016, with a ranking of No. 623.

The break gave her a new lease of life.

“I am almost certain that I wouldn’t be playing [now], if I am being honest,” Barty said. “I needed to take that time away just to refresh and kind of find myself. But coming back was the best decision that I ever made.”

She reached the French Open doubles final with Casey Dellacqua in 2017 and won the US Open doubles with CoCo Vandeweghe in 2018.

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Rejection by Murray

Before her breakthrough grand slam singles title, Barty found herself grappling with a dilemma, when she got a text from former men’s world No.1 Andy Murray, asking if she wanted to play mixed doubles during his comeback from hip surgery at Wimbledon.

“It was probably the toughest decision I had ever had to make, to say no to Andy,” said Barty.

“He asked me before the French Open and I had already committed to playing doubles with Vika [Victoria Azarenka], and I think playing three events is a little bit too much for me.

“I wanted to make sure that I could really put my best foot forward for both singles and doubles. But certainly, it wasn’t an easy decision, I had to take some time to think about it.”

Wimbledon favorite

Barty is on a winning streak of 12 straight matches and is the UK bookmaker’s favorite for the Wimbledon title.

But she pulled out of this week’s Eastbourne event as a precaution with a flare up of a long-term arm injury.

“It’s an injury that we’ve had to manage since I was 16 years old,” Barty told reporters.

“Just a bone stress injury and we need to look after it. I think we’ll be fine and be ready to go next week.”

Australian tennis coach Darren Cahill, a former mentor to Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Simona Halep, certainly has Barty as favorite for Wimbledon, which starts July 1.

“With the way she plays, the confidence she’s seen in the last couple years with her style, variety of game, the ability to get the slice nice and low, I reckon Ash is going to walk in there as the player to beat,” Cahill told CNN Sport.

“We’ll see how she also responds to winning her first major. People respond in different ways, but it’s a beautiful thing for her to have done, win that first major, put it in the bank, and we’ll see if she can set her mind on the job to possibly do well at Wimbledon.”