Wimbledon | Barty breezes through on sacred turf
Ash Barty is so excited to be at Wimbledon as the first Australian female to be ranked No 1 in over 40 years and the top seed.
It's been good. It's been a really good couple of days,” she said. “It was nice to stay off the court for a few days, started hitting again on Thursday. Everything has kind of worked out well. So feeling good Ashleigh Barty
“I haven’t looked at the draw,” she has said. “I mean, I’ve seen my first-round opponent.
“Flicking through on social media, you see people that are in certain quarters. I couldn’t tell you where they are in any kind of direct way.”
She added: “I don’t know if I’m the favourite for Wimbledon. I think I need to try and get through this first round first and foremost. Obviously the process that we’ve been going through, has been working.
“There’s no need for me to change that.”
As it happened, Barty fairly breezed through her Wimbledon opener with straight sets win over China’s Zheng Saisai to book her spot in the second round.
With her new status as the top player in the women’s game, Barty opened proceedings on the new-look No 1 Court on Tuesday and while she was made to work at times for her 6-4 6-2 win against the world No 33, particularly in the opening set, she closed out the win in an efficient manner in just under 90 minutes.
It was the French Open champion’s 13th successive victory and her 37th of what has become a stellar year for the 23-year-old Queenslander.
And she has still yet to drop a set in that run.
In fact, Barty has a very tricky draw and concerns were raised when she pulled out of Eastbourne to give her shoulder some rest, but she feels well-recovered and looked comfortable enough on the grass.
“It’s been good. It’s been a really good couple of days,” she said. “It was nice to stay off the court for a few days, started hitting again on Thursday.
“Everything has kind of worked out well. So feeling good.”
Zheng, however, came to Wimbledon off the back of a first round defeat at Eastbourne.
The Chinese had lost 4 of her 5 previous matches on the grass of SW19, and quickly slipped to an 0-3 disadvantage, but she rallied to hold serve at the second attempt, then broke back and held again to 3-3.
It suddenly was clear that Barty had a match on her hands.
She responded well, stepping up a gear to 5-4, forcing 3 break points, and Zheng sent the first one long to give up the first set in 41 minutes.
Zheng dropped her serve again in the lengthy second game of the second, double-faulting at deuce.
Barty took advantage, cruising to 4-1, and while Zheng held her next service game the top seed’s superior strength and variety of shot took her through, winning the second of two match points.
She was given a rousing reception on Court 1 after closing out the match in signature fashion, knifing a sliced backhand into the corner and stealing into the net to fire an un-returnable drop volley.
“The first round is always very tough,” said Barty. “It took time to get used to the conditions and the beautiful court with the new roof.
“It feels incredible [to be No 1]. It is a little bizarre, but this sacred turf we get to play on, you have to enjoy every minute of it.”
That Barty feels she is in a hallowed place is clear.
A few days ago she revealed how winning girls’ singles title at Wimbledon in 2011 had sparked her affection for the All England Club.
“It was the most incredible experience,” Barty told Wimbledon.com shortly before The Championships.
“I came away with the most incredible memories, and even now, I still get goosebumps when you walk into the gates at the All England Club. There is nothing like it.
“It’s a very special place, and I am just extremely lucky just to be able to play there, time and time again.”
Growing up in tropical Queensland, Barty didn’t play on a grass court until she was 12 years old, and was competing in the junior nationals in Australia.
“It was just a surface, that when I first walked on it, I instantly fell in love with it, and I knew that I would love playing tennis on it,” she said.
Winning the girls’ singles title at the age of 15 was a pivotal moment in Barty’s career.
“I think just all of the experiences that I gained from that week, it was such a whirlwind and such a blur, and for me, it was my first taste of what it was really like,” she said.
“It is scary for me to think that is 8 years ago now, but I still have those memories, and I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Three weeks ago, Barty stunned the tennis world with her Roland-Garros victory on the clay over the unseeded Czech Marketa Vondrousova, which came just 3 years after a comeback from playing cricket.
After a celebratory dinner with her team in Paris, and a few days playing golf in Britain, Barty went straight back to work, winning the title in Birmingham which took her to the No 1 ranking in women’s tennis.
“Usually takes me a day or two to get used to the grass under my feet, but in a sense, I don’t play very differently as I do on a clay court, or as I do on a grass court,” Barty said.
“For me, a lot of things stay the same, there are minor adjustments that I make but they are always adjustments that I enjoy.”
Barty will now play Alison van Uytvanck from Belgium, the World No 54 for a place in the third round on Thursday.
van Uytvanck took out Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 2-time Grand Slam champion, 6-4 4-6 6-2.
The Belgian reached the fourth round at Wimbledon last year, beating 2017 champion Garbiñe Muguruza on the way, and will present a stern test for the in-form Barty.
“Alison has a big game,” Barty observed. “It will be important for me to return well and look after my own service games.”
Elsewhere, on Centre Court, Angelique Kerber opened her title defence at Wimbledon with a topsy-turvy 6-4 6-3 win over Tatjana Maria from Germany.
Kerber, who beat Serena Williams to win last year’s title, will face American Lauren Davis in the second round.
She is in the ‘Quarter of Death’ along with Barty, 23-time Grand Slam winner Williams and 2017 champion Muguruza, with former major winners Maria Sharapova and Sam Stosur also in the mix.
Kerber has won more grass court matches than any other woman over the past four seasons and is bidding to become the 6th female player to successfully defend a Wimbledon title.
Barty, on the other hand, is looking to join an elite group of just 7 players who have won back-to-back French and Wimbledon titles, the last being Serena in 2015.