Ash Barty is the highest ranked Australian player.
Ash Barty is the highest ranked Australian player.

Barty Australia’s great Grand Slam hope

TENNIS: Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia saw Ash Barty up close in one of the biggest matches of 2017 for both women and has come to the Queenslander's home patch believing Australia has a Grand Slam singles champion on our hands.

Garcia denied Barty in their three-set final in Wuhan, China in September, a week of late-season form which pushed both women to top-20 rankings.

Barty, 21, starts her year of consolidation this week at the Brisbane International, intent on building on her remarkable rise from No.272 to No.17 with a first-round match against Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko.

Ash Barty is determined to capitalise on her breakout season.
Ash Barty is determined to capitalise on her breakout season.

Garcia, 24, takes a world ranking of No.8 into 2018, improving from No.23 over 12 months ago.

It gives her a vantage point to speak of what her good friend Barty needs to do well to negotiate what can be an awkward back-up season for young players.

"I think she can win a Grand Slam title for sure,'' Brisbane International fourth seed Garcia said.


"She is very calm on court and controls things very well. She knows how to do everything on court - she has variety in her game which not all the girls have.

"You always want things to go faster at this stage of a career. You have to follow your own path and we can see that sometimes things can go very fast.

"The match against Ashleigh (in the Wuhan final) was a big match with some ups and downs in the tennis.''

Caroline Garcia has high expectations for her friend Ash Barty.
Caroline Garcia has high expectations for her friend Ash Barty.

Barty has considerable experience of singles and doubles matches on big stages at Grand Slam events and said she was ready to deal with the January scrutiny which goes with being Australia's top-ranked player.

"It's been an exciting year and now it's a new experience for me, expectation wise,'' said Barty, who claimed two of the season's Grand Slam title winners Garbine Muguruza and Jelena Ostapenko among her 2017 scalps.

"You have to embrace it. The attention has changed. It's been nice to get more support.

"That elusive top 10 (spot) feels close but it also feels very far away.

"It's important to let the racquet do the talking in a sense and the ranking will take care of itself.

"Hopefully I can get stuck into the tournament and get a few good matches. I have to go into every tournament thinking I can win it.''

The right-hander is seeded to play a Pat Rafter Arena quarter-final against defending champion Karolina Pliskova, who said she has been affected by an illness which has left her with improving laryngitis.

Pliskova said she expected she would be able to play her first match, likely to be on Wednesday.

Tournament director Cameron Pearson said the pick of the women's first-round matches was one between US Open runner-up Madison Keys, who is unseeded, and Britain's world No. 9 Johanna Konta.

An all-Australian match between wildcards Alja Tomljanovic and Destanee Aiava was another feature of the match-ups.



Ash Barty will start her year at the Brisbane International.
Ash Barty will start her year at the Brisbane International.

Barty was 11 when the Tennyson event started after 16 years of Brisbane not having a WTA or ATP tournament.

"The tournament has grown into something much bigger than it was and it's very nice to be a part of it,'' she said.

"I was never one to watch a lot of tennis growing up and my first memories of here were when I was playing junior tennis and they recognised the Queensland juniors during each of the sessions. They'd bring you out and you'd hit a few balls.

"That was my first experience of Pat Rafter Arena. There was a little exhibition I played too.''

A friendship between Garcia and Barty includes common interests such as a shared love of dogs.

"Caro is a very good friend of mine. It's nice to see her doing so well,'' Barty said.

"She deserves it. She is a big game player.''

Garcia said they became friends at junior tournaments.

"We didn't see her for two years on tour (from late 2014 when Barty took a break from the tour) and came back with amazing tennis,'' Garcia said.

"She is great off court, open and always smiling and positive. It's always nice to share a moment with her.''

Australian No. 1 Ash Barty gives her view on the top four seeds at the Brisbane International:


Win-loss v Barty in 2017: 1-1 (won in Birmingham, grass; lost in Toronto, hardcourt)

"Garbine is such a massive hitter and a big-match player. I know she loves coming to a big court and performing at her very best. She needs time on the ball and when she gets that she can really hurt you.''


Win-loss v Barty in 2017: 0-1 (lost in Wuhan, China, hardcourt)

"Her game is set around her serve and her first shot. She can be ultra-aggressive on return games when she is serving well and puts you more under the pump. You have to be switched on to take the smallest chance because you don't get many in a match, if any.''


Win-loss v Barty in 2017: 3-0 (won in Fed Cup in Ukraine, indoor; at Wimbledon, grass; in Beijing, hardcourt)

"She had a hell of a year and won more titles than anyone (five on WTA Tour). Elina is one of the most solid players and doesn't have too many chinks in her armour. She is a great defensive player. She will make you play an extra ball, an extra three balls, to win a point.''


Win-loss v Barty in 2017: 1-0 (won in Wuhan, hardcourt)

"She is a big-game player, with a big serve and she takes returns early. Even when things aren't going her way, she doesn't let up.''

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