If anyone knows the challenge, expectation and pressure facing French Open champion Ash Barty as she prepares to tackle Wimbledon it’s veteran Australian Sam Stosur.
Stosur has spent much of her career carrying the weight of Australian hopes into Wimbledon after racking up almost a decade of strong results in the French Open – only to underachieve on grass.
This year, it’s Barty who everyone wants to talk about, and although on a run of 12 undefeated matches – including her triumph at Roland Garros – the new world No.1 has no easy task to navigate her way through a tricky draw.
“She is playing fantastic and grass is a surface that she openly says she can’t wait to get on every year,” Stosur said last week when assessing Barty’s chances.
“I don’t think she went to the French thinking she had a shot which is, maybe, why she went there and put no pressure on herself,” she told Nine newspapers.
“Wimbledon will be a different scenario. When she stopped it was because she didn’t like that spotlight on her and the pressure and didn’t like all that attention.
“But she’s matured and grown massively in that department since she returned to play. If you are going to win a slam you must be better at that.”
Barty is only the second Australian to top the WTA rankings since it began in 1973, along with her hero Evonne Goolagong Cawley – who won Wimbledon in 1971 and 1980.
Stosur – who is preparing for her own Wimbledon campaign with a first round match against Spain’s Carla Suárez Navarro – told wwos.com.au that Barty had the game to tear up the Wimbledon grass courts.
“She can have a big forehand when she wants to use it, the slice puts a lot of players into uncomfortable positions. The first serve is incredibly accurate and she’s a good mover. It’s kind of the full package.”
Barty’s draw does her no favours however, with four former world No.1s, seven major winners and four former Wimbledon champions among the contenders on her side.
First up is world No.43 Zheng Saisai on Tuesday, but trouble lurks as early as a potential second-round clash with dual grand slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Barty could also then run into 2017 Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza in round three and Swiss ace Belinda Bencic or Croat Donna Vekic in the last 16.
From there, to win the title, she could well face Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova and ultimately world No.2 Naomi Osaka.
Still Barty is not phased, telling The Guardian this week that she would be embracing all the pressure that comes with being the world No.1.
“I’m still hungry to be better, to achieve as much as I can. The talk of pressure and expectation to me is all white noise,” she said. “I try to prepare the exact same way every single match, and embrace it, enjoy it.”
As for Stosur, at 35 she’s not giving up on dragging her ranking back into the top 100, having slipped out with her French Open loss in the third round.
Australia also has other great stories in the opening week, with Ajla Tomljanovic and Daria Gavrilova being joined by 23-year-old Western Australian Astra Sharma, who started the season ranked 231, but is now No.85 and making her Wimbledon debut.
Sharma will play 27th seed Sofia Kenin, the American who took out Serena Williams at the French Open last month.
“It’s been unreal. I did not expect this at the start of the year, so everything is kind of a bonus,” Sharma said.
“I’m really excited. Obviously I have a lot of respect for her. She had a really good clay court season and also has been doing very well on the grass.
“I know I’m going to have to play really well to beat her and I think the same goes for her; she’s going to have to play pretty well to beat me.”
Arina Rodionova also qualified for her first major tournament for almost two years by beating American Danielle Lao 0-6 6-1 6-1 on Thursday.
The 29-year-old has slumped to No.212 in the world during her time in the wilderness and will play unseeded American Taylor Townsend in the first round.
“Playing main draw of a slam, that’s what we play tennis for, basically,” she said, adding that she expected the Australian players to make an impact. “We have a field of (Australian) players that’s much better this year.”
Thompson, the Australian man in form
In the wake of the Wimbledon mens’ draw the headlines have all been about how serial disappointment Nick Kyrgios is set for a potential matchup against Rafael Nadal in round two – completely missing the fact that he has to get over fellow Australian Jordan Thompson.
Western Australia’s Thompson is the Australian man in form, having made the third round of the French Open and declaring that he is happy to be “under the radar” while Kyrgios and others dominate the media.
Thompson, 25, meets Kyrgios at a time when the former Wimbledon quarter finalist has won only one match this grass-court season. Thompson has six from seven and last week made the Antalya semi-finals in Turkey.
Alex de Minaur, Australia’s only seed in the men’s event, will open his campaign against Italian Marco Cecchinato.
AUSTRALIAN WIMBLEDON FIRST-ROUND MATCHES
* 1-Ashleigh Barty v Zheng Saisai (CHN)
* Ajla Tomljanovic v 29-Daria Kasatkina (RUS)
* Daria Gavrilova v 8-Elina Svitolina (UKR)
* Astra Sharma v 27-Sofia Kenin (USA)
* Samantha Stosur v 30-Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP)
* 25-Alex de Minaur v Marco Cecchinato (ITA)
* Nick Kyrgios v Jordan Thompson
* John Millman v Hugo Dellian (BOL)
* Matt Ebden v 24-Diego Schwartzman (ARG)
* Alexei Popyrin v Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP)
* Bernard Tomic v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (ESP)