Ashleigh Barty started her first full WTA season ranked No.271 and without having beaten a player ranked in the top 10. She is now hurtling towards a debut grand slam seeding at the Australian Open, with world No.7 Johanna Konta counting as the 21-year-old’s latest conquest.
Barty recovered from 3-5 down in the deciding set to close out her second round match at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open 6-0 4-6 7-6(3) and advance to a third against German Julia Goerges on Wednesday. Having upset Venus Williams last month in Cincinnati to log her first victory over a single-digit opponent, she now has two.
“I just feel really comfortable on the court,” Barty told Tennismash post-match. “No matter who’s on the other side, I feel like I’ve got a genuine chance. We’ve done a lot of hard work to get to this point, and it’s nice now to be able to play with freedom and have some fun out there and try and do what I do best.”
Certainly, the unassuming Queenslander shares with her beloved Richmond, and it’s new Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin, not just the satisfaction of a brilliant season, but the possibility of more glory still to come.
Having broken into the top 100 with her first career title in Kuala Lumpur in March, and then reached a personal best ranking of 37th after a debut appearance in the US Open third round, the blooming tennis talent – who returned only last year from an extended break from the game – is well on course to be among the seeded 32 at Melbourne Park in January.
That, she admits, is in the back of her mind; also lurking there during Monday’s lengthy contest against a Wimbledon semifinalist on a humid night in central China was the Brownlow count playing out concurrently in Melbourne.
Her message for Martin: “Oh you bloody beauty! I’m so pumped. Straight away after the match I said ‘ok, did he win the Brownlow?’ My coach was going to yell out mid-match and let me know. I’m pumped for him. He deserves it, so hopefully we (Richmond) can go one more.”
Nor is Barty done, as sad as she is to be unable to join her fellow fanatics in yellow and black at the MCG on Saturday. She will be watching, though – even as she could still be preparing for a singles and/or doubles final on Wuhan’s impressive centre court a few hours later.
Against Konta, coach Craig Tyzzer stressed pre-match that it was not the result that mattered most. “It was about going out there and doing the right thing against these girls that are in the top 10 and eventually we’ll start getting over the line more often, and we’ve been able to do that this year,” Barty said.
“Overall tonight it was really quality tennis. I played one poor service game in the second set which let the set slip, and even in the third I didn’t do a hell of a lot wrong to get broken. I think I only had one break point in sets two and three and I was able to get it late in that third set, so it was nice to just hang in there long enough to give myself a chance.”
All of which leaves Barty as last Australian in the singles draw, after Daria Gavrilova lost to Julia Goerges 6-4 1-6 6-4 and Sam Stosur’s winless Asian comeback from an extended lay-off with a hand injury was stretched to a third week by 181st ranked Swiss wildcard Jill Teichmann.
Konta was joined in the exit queue by first-round seeded casualties Madison Keys (10), Petra Kvitova (11), Angelique Kerber (12) and US Open champion Sloane Stephens (13), as the Briton’s run of lengthy three set losses continued against an opponent she beat on grass in Nottingham in June.
“She’s a very good player and she’s done very well so far this season, and I think she’s gonna probably continue to do well,” Konta said of Barty. “She’s very down to earth, a really nice girl, so it’s nice to see nice people do well.”
Tyzzer was most pleased with the way Barty stuck to her task, and stuck with an opponent who lifted her level after a poor start. An opponent, indeed, ranked 30 places higher, and far more experienced. Having recently entered elite company, Barty is already more than holding her own.
“The tournaments she’s in now she’s going to play these girls more often, so she’s going to have to compete against these girls and get used to doing it,” he said. “And right now she’s doing a good job at it.”
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