LONDON (AFP) – Ashleigh Barty goes into Wimbledon buoyed, unlike her predecessor Naomi Osaka, by being world number one and with several of her major rivals struggling.
The engaging 23-year-old Australian – who emulated compatriot Evonne Goolagong Cawley by becoming number one last weekend – has yet to get beyond the third round at Wimbledon.
However, by winning the Birmingham tournament last weekend Barty showed she has the strengths to add the grass court Grand Slam to the French Open she won on clay and become the first Australian women’s champion since Goolagong Cawley’s second success in 1980.
With 37-year-old seven-time champion Serena Williams finally showing signs of age, Osaka looking exposed through poor form and two-time Wimbledon singles champion Petra Kvitova still easing back to top form after an arm injury, defending champion Angelique Kerber may be the biggest threat to Barty.
Barty insisted she feels no pressure.
“The only pressure is that that I put on myself,” she said. “To make sure that I do everything correctly and prepare as best that I can to try and play a good tennis match, try and play well, to enjoy myself.”
Barty admitted Wimbledon is unique among the Grand Slam events in having so few lead-up events on the surface.
“Wimbledon isn’t a normal event,” she said.
“It’s a little bit bizarre coming into Wimbledon having only played one grass court tournament.
“We feel like we’ve been striking the ball really well, we’re comfortable with the grass under our feet.”
Whilst Barty said she did not know what else the draw held for her, Williams claimed not to even know the Australian was number one.
Nevertheless Williams – who claims she is over the knee woes that saw her pull out of her match with sister Venus at the Italian Open and then make an early French Open exit – believes Barty could be in for a long run as number one.
“I think so,” said Williams. “I think she has a great game.
“I think she’s really even-tempered. She’s just really chill. She’s had a really good year.”
Williams is still chasing the elusive 24th Grand Slam title that would put her alongside Australian Margaret Court, but she was not talking up her chances.
“I just haven’t had enough match play, quite frankly. I finally feel like I found some good results in Paris,” she said.