Sport Tennis Rod Laver backs Ash Barty to win Wimbledon

Rod Laver backs Ash Barty to win Wimbledon

Ash Barty and Rod Laver share a moment after her Paris win. Photo: Getty
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French Open champion Ashleigh Barty is playing down her prospects of completing one of tennis’s rarest feats at The All England Club next month.

A Wimbledon junior champion at just 15, Barty will arrive in London for the grass-court major among the favourites after her captivating run to Roland Garros glory.

But in 50 years of professional tennis, only the genuine legends of the game – Margaret Court (1970), Evonne Goolagong Cawley (1971), Billie-Jean King (1972), Chris Evert (1974), Martina Navratilova (1982, 1984), Steffi Graf (1988, 1993, 1995, 1996) and Serena Williams (2002, 2015) – have managed to pull off the clay-to-grass grand slam double.

Little wonder Barty was preferring to enjoy the moment after becoming Australia’s first champion in Paris since Court 46 years ago, rather than making any bold Wimbledon predictions.

“I know I’m playing good tennis (but) Wimbledon is a long way away,” the humble star said in the afterglow of her 6-1 6-3 final win over Marketa Vondrousova on Sunday.

“I feel like I need to – I have to be able to – celebrate this with my team, take a few days off, and make sure I get my body and mind right so that when I come out to play my next tournament I’m ready to go.”

The new world No.2 has chosen not to defend her title in Nottingham, instead opting to launch her grass-court campaign at Birmingham before winding up her Wimbledon preparations at Eastbourne from June 23.

“Obviously I love the grass-court season,” Barty said.

“I’m excited to play over this next month in the UK and hopefully I can bring some really good level of tennis again to potentially give myself a chance to go deep in a major again.”

The great Rod Laver – who tipped Barty to “go all the way” in Paris after she reached the quarter-finals – has no doubt his big-hearted fellow Queenslander has the necessary tools to contend for tennis’ most prestigious trophy from July 1.

“There are some other big girls out there that are big servers and have good ground strokes but Ash is tenacious, has a good drop shot, good angles, good anticipation. I really think she’ll be a tough lady to beat,” Laver said.

Ash Barty and her trophy in Paris. Photo: Getty

The only man to complete the calendar-year grand slam sweep twice noticed a vast improvement in Barty’s game across the past fortnight and believes success in Paris could be just the start of things to come for the 23-year-old.

“It has been our first (win) on clay since 1973,” he said.

“That is pretty good to come back out and have a year away from tennis and get back in there and start playing.

“You could see her concentration has been much better.

“Sometimes before when she missed something she would have a ‘hang dog’ look about her if she missed a forehand.

“She would drop away and maybe think ‘this game is too tough to play’. But now everything she hits is perfect.”

Barty was honoured to receive such praise and said meeting Laver on court just before she was handed the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen was a huge moment.

“It was really special,” she said.

“When I saw him a couple of days ago he said he’d shake my hand when I won the tournament and I sort of laughed it off.

“He is an icon of sport globally, not just in tennis and in Australia. It’s really amazing to have him there.”

Barty said her Paris success was still sinking in.

“I have been able to play really good tennis when I’ve needed it.

“I never dreamt that I’d be sitting here with this trophy here at the French Open.

“I mean, obviously we have dreams and goals as children, but this is incredible.”

Barty is also only the third Australian since the turn of the century to claim a singles major, following Stosur’s 2011 US Open triumph over Serena Williams and Lleyton Hewitt’s 2001 New York win and 2002 effort at Wimbledon.

The new queen of clay will pocket a cool $3.74 million after winning a tournament where she’d never passed the second round on five previous visits.

Her new ranking will be the highest for an Australian woman since Goolagong Cawley reached top spot in 1976, and she follows her idol’s footsteps by becoming the second Indigenous Australian to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

“Evonne sent me a text a couple days ago and said this was her first grand slam,” Barty said.

“I spotted her name on the trophy. I’ll give her a call a little bit later on.

She’s created this path for indigenous tennis in Australia and I think now it’s becoming more nationwide.

“There are more opportunities for kids to start playing tennis, both male and female.”

Barty will catch up with her parents, who missed the chance to get to Paris after flying in to the UK from Brisbane just hours before she went on court.

Barty’s mother Josie has relatives in Nottingham, and along with her dad Rob, they watched her triumph, just hours after landing at Birmingham airport.

“It was planned they were always coming to the UK,” Barty said.

“It just so happened they were flying in today.

“There was never, you know, a kind of spark in my mind or question that they would come here for me.

“I know they’re watching. I know they are living through every single point with me and every single ride with me.

“They flew in and only landed an hour or two before we actually went on the court. So there was no physical possibility they could get to Paris.

“I will see them tomorrow. You know, obviously give them a big hug and a big kiss. It will be really nice to see them again, because it’s been a few weeks.”

-with AAP 


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