Ash calm un­der pres­sure

Mercury (Hobart) - - SPORT - LAU­REN WOOD

AUS­TRALIA’S hunger for a cham­pion is not lost on Ash Barty who in­sists she is not feel­ing any added pres­sure after steam­rolling her way into the Aus­tralian Open sec­ond round.

The 22-year-old de­mol­ished Thai­land’s Luk­sika Kumkhum 6-2 6-2 in ag­gres­sive fash­ion last night, stamp­ing her in­ten­tions on her home grand slam.

But the steely 15th seed is adamant that she is not feel­ing any ex­tra heat de­spite the high hopes.

“No, no, I don’t think you do,” she said.

“I think for me it’s more about fo­cus­ing on what I can with my ten­nis and my game, then go­ing out there on the court and try­ing to en­joy it, em­brace it, and play with free­dom.”

Barty has been in­stalled by book­mak­ers as fourth-favourite to win at $13, but said any ex­pec­ta­tion sim­ply came with the ter­ri­tory.

“I think Aus­tralians in gen­eral love their sport. That’s cer­tainly no se­cret,” Barty said.

“We’ve been very spoilt across all codes and forms of the game to have le­gends, those that have achieved un­think­able things, es­pe­cially in ten­nis as well. We’ve had le­gends through­out all of ten­nis his­tory in Aus­tralia.

“Aus­tralians are hun­gry for sport. They love it. They’re ad­dicted to it. I think at this time of the year it al­ways floats around with ten­nis that they’re look­ing for an Aus­tralian player, in par­tic­u­lar, to go deep and have a really good run.”

The swift vic­tory – which came after Barty weath­ered a “slow” start – came just 48 hours after her loss in the fi­nal of the Syd­ney In­ter­na­tional, and while the turn­around was quick, the Queens­lan­der said it was “a nice prob­lem to have”.

Barty will play China’s Yafan Wang – ranked 64th – to­mor­row and is sure her prepa­ra­tion would not be af­fected with coach Craig Tyzzer not at Mel­bourne Park due to ill­ness.

“We talk about the same things be­fore a match. It’s just by phone call as op­posed to per­son,” she said.

“I’m ex­tremely lucky to have a Fed Cup cap­tain like Mol (Ali­cia Mo­lik) who can step in and help out. It’s a very seam­less tran­si­tion.”

Ear­lier, home hopes Zoe Hives and Kim­berly Bir­rell par­layed their Aus­tralian Open wild­card en­tries into the most sig­nif­i­cant wins of their fledg­ling ca­reers.

Hives de­fied her rank­ing of No.225 in the world to up­stage sea­soned Amer­i­can Bethanie Mat­tek-Sands 6-1 6-2 be­fore Bir­rell joined her in the sec­ond round with a 6-4 6-2 de­feat of Span­ish qual­i­fier Paula Ba­dosa Gib­ert.

Hives, a 22-year-old from Bal­larat mak­ing her grand slam main-draw de­but earned a crack on Wednes­day at French 19th seed Carolina Gar­cia, while Bir­rell will play Croa­t­ian Donna Ve­kic.

Bir­rell is en­joy­ing a break­out sum­mer. After win­ning last month’s Open wild­card play­off at Mel­bourne Park, the 20-year-old stunned world No.10 Daria Kasatk­ina at the sea­son-open­ing Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional be­fore also reach­ing the sec­ond round last week in Syd­ney.

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