Ash calm under pressure
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.