If you’re looking for an antidote to the toxic antics of some of the male Australian players at Melbourne Park, look no further than Ashleigh Barty.
On Wednesday she powered into the third round without dropping a set.
Barty fired seven aces and dropped serve just once as she despatched China’s Yafan Wang 6-2 6-3 and then declared she felt no pressure as the great local hope.
“It’s great to be playing in Australia and playing well,” the tournament’s 15th seed said after playing with freedom and flair to notch her sixth win in nine days.
A finalist at last week’s Sydney International, the 22-year-old has surged into fourth favouritism to become the first home winner of the Open since Chris O’Neill in 1978.
Barty, though, insisted the hype was easy to block out.
“I don’t read the papers to start off with,” she said. “I can come out here and play with freedom.
“When I’m playing well, I’m really enjoying myself out on court and that is all I can ask of every match.
If I win, it’s a bonus. If I lose, the sun still comes up the next day and it’s all good.”
The Queenslander will play either West Australian qualifier Astra Sharma or Greek Maria Sakkari on Friday for a place in the second week of the Open for the first time.
It was not all good news for Australia on Wednesday, with French 19th seed Caroline Garcia ending local wildcard Zoe Hives’ exciting campaign.
Garcia won 6-3 6-3 in one hour and five minutes, with Hives failing to replicate her straight sets effort of the first round.
Despite the defeat, the Ballarat-born 22-year-old will leave Melbourne Park $105,000 richer after earning the biggest cheque of her career.
Later on Wednesday afternoon, 20-year-old Queensland wildcard Kim Birrell (rank 240) again lifted spirits with a stunning upset of 29th seed, Croatian Donna Vekic.
The 6-4 4-6 6-1 win lines up a potential third-round clash against 2016 champion Angelique Kerber and also launches Birrell into the top 150 post-tournament.
Earlier, Australia’s Jordan Thompson was eliminated in the second round by Italian Andreas Seppi.
Seppi, who lost the Sydney International final to Alex de Minaur, won 6-3 6-4 6-4 on a warm, blustery day at Melbourne Park.
The 24-year-old Thompson’s win-loss record at majors now sits at 4-15.
In a major shock, No.5 seed Kevin Anderson lost to American Frances Tiafoe in four sets on Margaret Court Arena.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) January 16, 2019
More to come.