Barty major threat
WORLD No.2 Angelique Kerber believes Ash Barty has the tools to challenge for a grand slam title in 2019, describing the Australian as a tricky opponent to play.
Barty rose to No.15 in the world with a strong 2018 that featured two WTA title wins.
She also reached the fourth round at the US Open — her best result at a major — as well as the third round at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
Barty, 22, enjoyed a solid Hopman Cup, beating Alize Cornet and Garbine Muguruza in straight sets before losing to Kerber 6-4 6-4 in a tough contest on Friday night.
Kerber, who has won three grand slam titles, believes Barty will be among the contenders in the majors this year.
“Ash is a tricky opponent — she’s a really talented player and you never know what ball she will play,” she said.
“It’s just (about) experience she learned from last year — I think that she’s ready for sure to go to the next step.”
Barty has set her sights on cracking the top 10 this year.
Her hopes of going one better than her final defeat at last year’s Sydney International have been hit by a nightmare draw this week, while male hope Alex de Minaur has landed on the same side as the defending champion.
Barty, who lost last year’s final to Kerber, faces 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round.
World No.1 Simona Halep awaits in the second round.
De Minaur, who also made the Sydney final last year only to lose to Daniil Medvedev, will potentially face the Russian in the quarter-finals.
He opens his campaign against Serb Dusan Lajovic.
Barty’s fellow Aussies Sam Stosur and Ajla Tomljanovic also have tough first-round encounters, but Daria Gavrilova faces a qualifier.
Stosur takes on former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova, while Tomljanovic faces Italian Camila Giorgi, a semi-finalist in Sydney last year.
The women’s draw features eight of the world’s top 10, with Spanish doubles teammates Carla Suarez Navarro and Muguruza facing off.