Sport Rivals’ woes open up Wimbledon draw for Ash Barty

Rivals’ woes open up Wimbledon draw for Ash Barty

Ash Barty (right) salutes Carla Suarez Navarro at the net after their emotional first-round match. Photo: AP
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Ash Barty is not the sort to make grandiose predictions about her grand slam title hopes but the world No.1 must be quietly confident how woes for some of her fellow contenders have invitingly opened up her path as top seed at Wimbledon.

The Australian had a rollercoaster opening to her campaign with her three-set win over Carla Suarez Navarro on Centre Court, an occasion where the emotion of playing the inspirational cancer survivor may have contributed to an uneven afternoon.

Yet when she hit her stride in the third set, she really did begin to look like a natural on the surface where she won the junior crown 10 years ago as she eased to a 6-1 6-7 (1-7) 6-1 win.

Expert pundits like former US Open champion Tracy Austin identified her as a justified favourite to pick up the title which has been vacated by the late withdrawal of injured Simona Halep.

That feeling was only heightened later on the same court when Serena Williams’ latest chance to match Margaret Court’s record grand slam singles titles tally ended in tears.

The great champion was forced to pull out after hurting her left leg when slipping at 3-all in the opening set against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, an event so seismic in Wimbledon terms that even Roger Federer was moved to exclaim, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it’.”

Williams, in the same half of the draw as Barty, had, of course, been a huge threat but along with Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka and Halep, who both withdrew before the event started, the absence of the big three now looks a heaven-sent opportunity for Barty.

Next up for her is Russian Anna Blinkova, a promising 22-year-old Muscovite, ranked 89 in the world, who had an impressive first round win over the experienced Timea Babos.

The pair have never met but if Barty should prevail, she will also be encouraged by the knowledge that she’ll have no seed to face in the third round.

The original No.27 seed Johanna Konta, the Sydney-born Briton who was scheduled to be her last-32 opponent had to pull out before the tournament for being a ‘close contact’ of one of her team who’d tested positive for COVID.

As for her own form, there was, mercifully, no sign of any problems with the injured hip that forced Barty to withdraw during her second-round match at Roland Garros in her first competitive outing on the grass for two years.

“Grasscourt tennis has always felt like it’s come quite naturally to me,” Barty said.

“I thought at times I served well, was able to control the court. For all but one little hiccup when I got broken when serving for the match, it was really good.

“We obviously go back and debrief and go through and think of ways that we can improve and be better.

“But, overall, happy to get a start here at Wimbledon, play that really solid match, and now we feel like we just keep working our way through the tournament as best that we can each and every day.”