‘Sharing a court with Ash is always a pleasure’

The prospect of creating history will play no part in Ashleigh Barty's Australian Open preparation as the Queenslander taps into a well-grooved routine ahead of her quarter-final clash with Petra Kvitova.

 

Bidding to become the nation's first female semi-finalist since Wendy Turnbull in 1984, Barty has no interest in indulging post-match permutations.

 

It's the small - undisclosed - things that count to Barty and her coach Craig Tyzzer.

 

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"I've played Petra a few more times," Barty said of the pair's seven-match rivalry.

 

"Tactically the last few times we've played Petra, we've had a small, small adjustment, small change.

 

"It's never an easy match. I think maybe all but one have gone to three sets.

 

"I think I'm looking forward to another battle against a quality opponent."

 

If Barty succeeds against the gifted Czech, she will face either American Sofia Kenin or Tunisian Ons Jabeur for a place in the final.

 

Barty, bidding to become Australia's first singles champion since Chris O'Neil in 1978, has beaten Kvitova at their past three meetings after losing to the left-hander in the quarters here last year.

 

Dual Wimbledon champion Kvitova presents an explosive mix of power and guile.

 

A friend and admirer of Barty's, she relates to what her opponent is going through.

 

"I think Ash is great. She has to have such big pressure on her," Kvitova said.

 

"She's dealing with it like probably nobody else. That's really something, why she is deserving to be No. 1 and has won a grand slam.

 

"It will be great match anyway. Sharing court with her, it's always a pleasure. Doesn't matter what the score will be, but it will be nice."

 

"I like Ash, it's really not about how she plays," she said. "She is always there, she's a great person. That's what matters for me, as a person."

 

Kvitova's coach Jiri Vanek said Barty's adaptability was an obvious qualities.

 

"Ashleigh's a great player, is one of the smartest probably player on the WTA," Vanek said.

 

"Petra beat her last year twice (Sydney and Melbourne).

 

"Sydney was close match. And then she played amazing match here quarter-final, and hopefully she gonna play the same level like she played last year.


"But with Ashleigh it's always tough. She always have two, three weapons. She can come with a plan B."

 

ASH BARTY v PETRA KVITOVA

 

Kvitova leads 4-3.

2019 WTA Finals, Shenzhen, hard, RR, Barty 6-4 6-2

2019 Beijing, hard, QF, Barty 4-6 6-4 6-3

2019 Miami, hard, QF, Barty 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 6-2

2019 Australian Open, hard, QF, Kvitova 6-1 6-4

2019 Sydney, hard, F, Kvitova 1-6 7-5 7-6 (7-3)

2017 Birmingham, grass, F, Kvitova 4-6 6-3 6-2

2012 French Open, clay, R128, Kvitova 6-1 6-2

 

THE 'UNNATURAL NO.1' CRUSHING GREAT EXPECTATIONS

 

Should she beat Petra ­Kvitova on Tuesday, Ash Barty will be just one win away from playing in the final of the ­Australian Open.

 

It will be an enormous feat. It is now 40 years since an Aussie made the last two in Melbourne, Wendy Turnbull crashing to Hana Mandlikova.

 

Yet Barty is yet to reach her top form this tournament and has been under the radar if anything, hiding almost in plain sight. It is a clever but necessary ploy.

 

When she lost to Kvitova at this stage last year there were widespread, and unfounded, expectations upon her.

 

She started 2019 as the world's 15th best player only and the dual Wimbledon champion Kvitova was always the more realistic winner.

 

Australian tennis legend Wendy Turnbull.
Australian tennis legend Wendy Turnbull.

Everything though has changed for Barty this past 12 months, the French Open crown, world No.1 spot and the $6 million she scooped for winning the women's end of year finals.

 

She has become, on the quiet almost, the people's champion and, last Sunday, ­became the Young Australian of the Year, too.

 

"You don't want to put too much pressure on her because she is a tennis player, but I think she can transcend our sport," said former Australian Davis Cup captain John ­Fitzgerald.

 

"She has a real special quality that can turn from one sport to another and into other non-sporting areas. She has a really special unique gift."

 

With success comes expectation and pressure.

 

At the Newcombe Medal ceremony just before Christmas (she won) the focus was immense. There was a red carpet with the tennis celebs (Aussie men's top dog Alex de Minaur included) giving one-on-one media interviews. Not Barty, the clamour so great that she understandably did just one interview for all.

 

Australia's favourite sports person then?

 

"She would be close to it, the pressure is building," John Newcombe said on the night.

 

It is why Barty started the year at the Brisbane International, her backyard, and then played in Adelaide the week before the Open.

 

She feels an obligation to the public and Australia's summer of tennis is short.

 

Brisbane was a disaster though, the new ATP Cup meant shunting the women to the outer courts while the big boys hogged TV's centre stage.

 

It meant Barty waiting until Thursday morning to play her first match. Her opponent, Jennifer Brady, was ranked 54 but had three qualifying wins already that week and dumped Barty out in straight sets.

 

So Barty arrived in Adelaide in need of a match.

 

Ash Barty had a blast winning the Adelaide International. Picture: Mark Brake/Getty
Ash Barty had a blast winning the Adelaide International. Picture: Mark Brake/Getty

South Australia was not easy, she lost her first set to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, ranked 31, and was close to another exit but significantly the crowd supported her heavily.

 

In the semi-final she was fortunate to come through against Danielle Collins on a final set tie-break. At the switch of ends at 3-3 she turned to the crowd and lifted both palms up in air, urging them on.

 

It was perhaps the pivotal point of her summer, the volume upped enormously and Collins was sent packing.

 

"I don't often give you much," Barty told the crowd afterwards.

 

"You have brought a little more enjoyment back to my tennis. It's seldom I'll get the crowd involved but it was a lot of fun tonight. It was incredible."

 

She clinched the WTA Premier event without fuss the next day, the 24 ranked Dayana Yastremska her victim.

 

Melbourne has largely followed suit, Barty getting through but most matches have had periods where the opponent has dominated without ever quite looking like ­winning. It is some trick.

 

Barty is the centre of attention after a training session on Monday.
Barty is the centre of attention after a training session on Monday.

The crowds are with her unquestionably but it is clapping more than cheering right now. She does not bring the ­excesses of Nick Kyrgios. There has been some sniping, John McEnroe suggesting Barty is not a natural No.1.

 

But she is still here and facing probably the most dangerous opponent still in the draw in Kvitova. Barty won their last three meetings last year and will likely need to disprove McEnroe to bounce the Czech out.


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