Ashleigh Barty is playing down her status as Wimbledon title favourite as she enters uncharted waters as the world No.1, top seed and newly crowned French Open champion.
Barty’s spectacular rise on the back of a tour-best three titles and a 12-match winning streak has vaulted the Australian to the top of the world and the betting markets.
But apparently no one told Serena Williams who said she wasn’t aware Barty had become No.1 until being told at her pre-Wimbledon press conference on the weekend.
Williams, though, did say she was happy for Barty and was gushing in her appraisal of her game.
“Wow, that’s great,” the 23-time grand slam champion offered when told Barty was the No.1.
“She has the most beautiful game, such classic shots. I mean, she does everything right. Her technique is, like, flawless.
“Obviously I’m happy for her. Yeah, it’s good. It’s good for her.”
The American superstar endorsed Barty as a genuine chance of becoming Australia’s first Wimbledon singles champion since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.
“She has a great game. I think, like, she’s really even-tempered,” Williams said.
“She’s just really chill. I feel like she’s just so relaxed in a way. She’s had a solid year, as well. It’s not just the French Open. I believe she won Miami. She’s had a really good year.”
If results go their way, Barty and Williams could clash in the quarter-finals.
Bookmakers have relegated Williams, defending champion Angelique Kerber and dual winner Petra Kvitova behind Barty.
But, true to form, she is playing down the hype.
“I don’t know if I’m the favourite for Wimbledon. I think I need to try and get through this first round first and foremost,” Barty said before her championship opener against world No.43 Zheng Saisai on Tuesday.
“Saisai has incredible abilities to match up on a grass court.
“She has done well here in the past. She has got a good slice backhand, the kick serve that will react well off the courts.
She loves playing on the grass courts. It’s a tough first-round match, one that I know I’ll have to be ready for.
“That’s kind of the perfect start for me, trying to make sure I’m really switched on for that first-round match, trying to do the best that I can.”
Barty said she was ready to go after arriving at the All England Club under a fitness cloud following her withdrawal from the Eastbourne International to rest bone stress in her over-used serving arm.
“Yeah, it’s been good. It’s been a really good couple of days,” she said.
“It was nice to stay off the court for a few days, started hitting again on Thursday.
“As far as we’re going, everything has kind of worked out well with monitoring our loads, all those kind of things. So feeling good.”
Bidding to become Australia’s first Wimbledon champion since Hewitt in 2002 and first Aussie woman since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980, Barty is in a loaded top quarter of the draw alongside four former world No.1s and four former champions – including Williams and Kerber.
But she is focusing solely on Zheng.
“I haven’t looked at the draw,” said Barty, dismissing the notion that the grass court slam boasted less contenders than other majors because of the difficult surface.
“There are obviously girls that are more comfortable on grass courts, girls that have played on them a lot more, but there are still always going to be some upsets rankings-wise.
“There are always going to be some results that people don’t expect, but that’s the nature of the beast.
“That happens every single tournament, whether on hard court, grass court or clay. That happens every tournament.”
Victory over Zheng would progress Barty to a second-round match on Thursday against either former French and US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova or Alison Van Uytvanck.
Barty acknowledged it was a “new feeling” entering the All England Club as top seed.
“Something that I’ve never experienced before,” she said.
“It hasn’t really changed much, to be honest. We’re still trying to go about all of our business, all of our preparations the same way.
“We know what we’ve been doing has been working. For us, it’s about trying to keep that normality as much as possible.
“There’s more attention, there’s more of that outside noise. But from what we’re trying to do on the court, it hasn’t changed much. We’ll just keep trying to grow and be better every single day.”