Optimism reigns for Australians preparing for the US Open, but once again it is Ash Barty on which most hopes reside as the world No.2 vows to shake off the “chaos” of New York.
Before her opening-round, centre court match against Kazakh Zarina Diyas, Barty said she hoped to embrace the intensity of Arthur Ashe Stadium and add a second major to her trophy cabinet.
“It’s chaotic. It really is,” Barty said.
“You get that in Manhattan, where it’s busy. Obviously it’s the city that never sleeps but on site here it’s chaos.
“It really is and I think you have to learn to enjoy it, sometimes laugh at it and other times it’s also important to get away from it.
Often I don’t spend too much time here on site when I’m not playing. I’m more an in-and-out sort of person and do what I need to do and then get out pretty quickly.’’
It was after a second-round loss to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at Flushing Meadows in 2013 that Barty, feeling the strain of the tour grind, made the drastic but life-changing decision to take time out from tennis.
Six years on and Barty returned in 2019 as the reigning US Open doubles champion, the singles second seed and clearly far better equipped to seriously contend at the grand slam that never sleeps.
“Oh, there is no place in the world like New York. I have been here a few times now and I understand the city a little bit better. I know how it works,” Barty said.
“You come here and you just take it in your stride. You enjoy it. There’s no point fighting it … It’s definitely a spark in my calendar.”
Barty refuses to look beyond her opening match with the 77th-ranked Diyas, who she beat in two tight sets in their only previous encounter back in 2013.
“Every single person in the draw has as good of a chance as anyone else,” Barty said.
“You know, you guys probably talk about the favourites more than I do. I just come here to play and do the best that I can, and that’s all that bothers me.
“I’m focused on my first round on Monday and that’s all I’m worried about for the moment.”
Barty is among four Australians in first-day action, with 2011 champion Samantha Stosur, along with Daria Gavrilova and Alex de Minaur also opening their campaigns on Monday.
Gavrilova hopes a return to “boring tennis” can spark a desperately needed revival having been hampered by a foot injury all season.
The former Australian No.1 before Barty’s rise, Gavrilova has slumped to 84th in the world after suffering 13 first-round defeats in 2019 and failing to win a solitary match at a major.
“Not happy with the year at all, but there’s still a few months to go and I’m definitely going to try improve that,” Gavrilova said of the poor run.
After turning to respected coach David Taylor, the former long-time mentor of Stosur, Gavrilova has gone back to basics in a bid to regain her form and confidence.
“I’m still trying to come back to what’s been successful for me, which is using my forehand and playing a lot more with the topspin because I feel like I went away from it,” she said.
“I still, for some reason, have the habit to try and hit the ball flat. But we’re really trying to play just a bit of boring tennis where I play the ball heavy and stay in long rallies.”
But staying in long rallies isn’t so easy when battling plantar fasciitis and achilles tendinitis.
“I’m still battling with injuries. It’s ongoing but hopefully it’s going to go away and that’s why I was home just before coming here taking care of my feet and stuff,” Gavrilova said.
The former US Open junior champion faces Fiona Ferro in her opener, barely two months after taking just three games from the Frenchwoman in a heavy loss on grass at Eastbourne.
“I’m not going to take anything out of that, to be fair,” Gavrilova said.
“Seriously, I’m not. Different surface, different everything. I wasn’t all mentally there.”
In the men’s draw Jordan Thompson says he is hoping to get to the second week, having cracked the top 50 for the first time.
“I don’t want to come here and just go out first round. They’re all tough matches, but I do want to go on a run,” Thompson said before his first-round clash with Joao Sousa on Tuesday.
It was in New York three years ago, after he’d blown a two-set lead against journeyman Steve Darcis, that a pep talk from coach Des Tyson sparked Thompson into action.
“He sat me down and said that I owed it to myself to start eating better given how hard I was working on the court and the gym. I had a little bit of a sweet tooth for lollies and desserts,” Thompson said.
“I really took that advice on board; I cut them out and I noticed straight away how much better I felt.”
Three years on, and after winning one match at ATP level in 2018, Thompson credits his improved discipline and fitness levels for his revival.
A favourite of Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt, Thompson’s 23 wins in 2019, including his foray to a maiden ATP final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, propelled the Sydneysider to the cusp of the top 40 last month.
“I’ve been playing some good tennis, up around the 50 mark, so I just want to keep pushing forward,” he said.
I want to try and get top 40, top 30 and the only way to do that is to keep working on my game and trying to keep getting better.
“It’s all the one percenters: getting in the gym, going for runs, working on your forehand, working on your backhand.”
Nick Kyrgios, Thompson, John Millman, Alexei Popyrin, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Ajla Tomljanovic and Astra Sharma all start on Tuesday.
AUSTRALIANS IN ACTION ON DAY ONE
Women’s singles, first round
2-Ashleigh Barty v Zarina Diyas (KAZ)
Daria Gavrilova v Fiona Ferro (FRA)
Samantha Stosur v Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS)
Men’s singles, first round
Alex de Minaur v Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA)