Less than a week after winning her first grand slam title at the French Open, many pundits are already backing Australia’s Ash Barty to win the Wimbledon Championships next month.
At Roland Garros the 23-year-old prevailed during what was a lacklustre women’s draw. On route to victory, she scored wins over Madison Keys and Amanda Anisimova. Then in the final, she cruised to a 6-1, 6-3, win over Marketa Vondrousova. Becoming the first player from her country to win the French Open since Margaret Court back in 1973.
“It’s been an incredible couple of weeks, that’s for sure.” Barty said following her win in Paris. “I think any time I can play my brand of tennis, I know that I can match it against the best in the world.”
“For the last fortnight, the stars have aligned for me. I have been able to play really good tennis when I’ve needed it.”
The clay has never been Barty’s favourite surface. She hadn’t won a singles title on the dirt until Paris this year. 12 months ago, she told reporters, ‘a week on the clay is a week closer to the grass season.’ Now ranked two in the world, nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova believes the Australian has what it takes to conquer the All England Club.
“There’s no doubt that Barty can win Wimbledon – grass allows her to make use of all the shots and options that she has in her game. Whatever Barty did on clay, she can do even better on grass. She has all the shots.” Navratilova wrote in an article for wtatour.com.
“I would actually say Barty has more options than any other player in women’s tennis.” She added.
It was at Wimbledon, where she won her first and only grand slam title at junior level. In 2011 she defeated Irina Khromacheva to win the girls title at the age of 15. Becoming only the second player from her country to do so after Debbie Freeman back in 1980. However, on the professional tour Barty to yet to go beyond the third round.
“Barty’s slice is more effective on grass than it is on clay. Players on the WTA Tour have a hard time handling slice, because most of them don’t want to be inside the baseline. Also with the ball skidding through low, they’re hitting a defensive shot from inside the baseline which makes them vulnerable.” Navratilova explained.
“Barty’s also a great volleyer – she can even throw in a serve-and-volley play once in a while, and mix it up, maybe chip and charge on a second serve. All of this variety can really get into an opponent’s head and create confusion and some cheap mistakes on her opponent’s side.”
Another backer is Pat Cash, who won the Wimbledon title back in 1987. Speaking about the 23-year-old during an interview with The Daily Mail, Cash believes Barty will be a ‘real threat’ in grand slam tournaments over the foreseeable future.
“She hasn’t been that successful yet in singles yet, but there’s no reason she shouldn’t be. She got the final of the (2013) doubles,’ he said.
‘Her serve has significantly improved in the past three to six months. The sliced backhand is very effective on the grass. She’s the best volleyer on tour. She has a grass-court game – clay is her worst surface so it looks pretty good for her!”
Former doubles specialist Renee Stubbs believes her compatriot will peak on the tour in two to four years time. Saying that there is more to come from her. Stubbs is currently the coach of Karolina Pliskova.
“Ash has a very good chance at Wimbledon. She can play on every surface and always says she is strongest on grass, although it was no surprise to me she won the French Open, as I always thought she could be great on clay.” Stubbs told Omnisport earlier this week.
“There is no question she can win another slam. She is only going to get better and better and I think she will peak at 25, 26, maybe 27.
“She has so many shots to choose from and I think when you are an all-court player like that, you get better as you get older.”
Barty is set to begin her grass-court season next week at the Nature Valley Championships in Birmingham.
Barty’s 2018 grass season
- Nottingham – defeated Naomi Osaka and Joanna Konta on route to her first WTA title on the surface
- Birmingham – R2 (lost to Julie Goerges)
- Eastbourne – QF (lost to Caroline Wozniacki)
- Wimbledon – R3 (lost to Daria Kasatkina)
Heather Watson: My Losing Streak Was Really Depressing
Heather Watson described how it felt during her long losing streak and how she turned it around at an ITF event in Japan.
Heather Watson did not win a single match during a four-month stretch between January and May. Unsurprisingly, she was feeling pretty down during that run.
“It was really depressing,” the Brit said. “I thought you know what, I was trying my best to stay positive and I thought this is going to be the week, like this is it, I’m going to win a match. Nope. And it just was going on for months. And it came to a point where I was thinking: Why am I trying every day? Why am I going to these tournaments?”
She continued, “Then, when I went to Japan, I lost first round there. I played really well in that match, but the girl had nothing to lose and played a really good match.”
“It was a really tough time but I’m proud of myself for sticking with it and getting out of it now because right now, I really can’t complain. I’m happy in life, on the court, off the court and happy with my game.”
Joy in Japan for Watson
The turning point for Watson came during her second ITF tournament in Fukuoka, Japan. She won easily in the first round, and suddenly her confidence returned.
“I think dropping down a level and playing the ITFs in Japan (was the key),” the Brit said. “As soon as I won one match, I won the tournament. I just needed that one match to give me confidence.”
She continued, “I’ve done that a few times now in my career, drop down to ITF level, which is still really tough, but for me it was literally just about getting one win.”
After she re-discovered the winning habit, Watson built up her confidence step by step. She notched another two victories in a third tournament in Japan. Then she got through a round of French Open qualifying.
The Brit followed up those results with a couple of good wins on the grass at Surbiton, before she was knocked out in the first round of Nottingham by Maria Sakkari.
Watson unlucky to lose to Strycova
By the time she got to Birmingham, Watson felt ready to beat Barbora Strycova in her first round match. Unfortunately for the Brit, she lost a tight three-set encounter that could easily have gone her way instead.
“I was really upset when I came off the court today because I felt I was the better player most of that match,” the World No.122 reflected. “But my coach just put it into perspective for me. He got me thinking back to some of the tournaments we were at earlier on: Indian Wells, Miami, where I could literally barely put balls in the court. When he said that, it made me laugh.”
Despite the loss, Watson is encouraged by her performance. “I was really happy with my level today,” she said. “There wasn’t much in it at all and I thought it was a high-quality match so I am feeling like my game is there and it should come together.”
Watson loves British crowds
There is no better place to play well than in front of a home crowd, and the Brit relishes this time of year. “I really don’t feel much pressure when I play at home,” she said. “When I think about it, I’m really excited, really happy to be playing on grass at these tournaments, not having to fly anywhere and having home crowd support.”
She continued, “I don’t know whether it’s because of the surface, whether it’s because I’m at home and I’m happy, or what it is, but I always feel like this time of year I do play some of my best tennis and I think that’s shown in my results in previous years at Wimbledon and Eastbourne. Unfortunately not here yet, but maybe next year.”
Margarita Gasparyan: I Can Beat More Top Players
Margarita Gasparyan spoke about her growing belief that she can beat the best, her return to top form and her new-found love of grass.
Margarita Gasparyan believes she can beat more of the best in the world after she recorded an impressive 6-3 3-6 6-4 win over Elina Svitolina at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham.
The Russian, 24, played some excellent tennis at times during the match and she is confident that her style can cause problems for other high-ranked players in the future.
“I’m really happy that I won today because it was a really important victory,” Gasparyan said. “I played against a really great player and I think I’m playing really well.”
It was the Russian’s second win over a top ten player after she beat Kiki Bertens in a tight three-set match in Linz in October last year, and she is definitely starting to understand what is required to be successful in these high-profile encounters.
“With very victory like this you feel more confident in yourself,” Gasparyan said. “You just feel like you can beat more and more of this kind of player.”
Gasparyan back to her best after lengthy injury lay-off
In many ways, it is remarkable that the Russian is even still playing tennis after she endured a long spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.
It took three surgeries to repair the damage. However, while it has taken Gasparyan a long time to feel like she is back to her best, she is convinced she is there now.
“It was really, really tough (to come back from the injury),” the World No.62 said. “I was away a long time, almost two years, but I’m happy that I’m here now and I can compete.”
She continued, “Now (I’m established again) I have different goals and I just want to win as many matches as I can. I was 41 in the world. But now I want to be higher. So I just want to work hard and then I hope I will achieve my goals.”
Gasparyan feels comfortable on grass
Due to her injury, Gasparyan had only played six grass court matches on the WTA tour before this year. However, that inexperience on the surface has barely hampered her at all and she believes it is because grass suits her game.
“I enjoy grass more than clay court,” the Russian said with a smile. “The rallies are faster and it suits my aggressive game.”
She continued, “I haven’t played a lot of tournaments on grass, but even now after some years away I’m feeling really good, so it’s not like I have to play a lot of tournaments to feel nice on the grass.”
Gasparyan is also encouraged by the way she handled the key moments against Svitolina. “I was confident (at those times) because I like the shots that I’m hitting and my ball is going deep.”
The Russian’s next task will be tricky one against either Ekaterina Alexandrova or French Open quarter-finalist Petra Martic. But her confidence is high and she will feel good about her chances whoever she faces.
Elina Svitolina: I Don’t Have Expectations At The Moment
After she was knocked out in the first round, Elina Svitolina explained why she does not have high hopes for the grass court season.
The last few months have been frustrating for Elina Svitolina. She has been troubled by a knee injury since February and has not been able to play as much tennis as she would like.
This has led to a very mixed set of results for the Ukrainian. She played through the pain for a while and made it to three successive Premier semi-finals in Doha, Dubai and Indian Wells.
Sensibly, the World No.7 then decided not to push her luck and she took a six-week break to rest her knee after she was knocked out early in Miami.
When Svitolina returned to the tour, she lost in the first round in Madrid and Rome, so she was very short on match practice going into the French Open.
Despite that, the Ukrainian produced a good performance to beat Venus Williams in the first round, then she progressed to the third round by default after Kateryna Kozlova withdrew. Unfortunately for Svitolina, she did not get any more match practice in Paris as Muguruza defeated her in straight sets.
Svitolina not getting her hopes up due to lack of match practice
That loss to the Spaniard meant the World No.7 came to Birmingham having played just four matches since 23 March. It is far from ideal preparation, and it explains why she has set the bar low for the grass court season.
“I don’t have expectations,” Svitolina said. “For me it is just playing one tournament, one match at a time. I want to win as many matches as I can. If I don’t, maybe it’s not meant to be, but I will try my best.”
She continued, “I try to work really hard each day on and off the court to be ready for each event and each match, but I’m not really thinking too far ahead. Health is the priority for me now.”
The Ukrainian lost 6-3 3-6 6-4 to Margarita Gasparyan in the opening round, and she is keen to move on quickly as quickly as possible. “Of course it’s a little bit disappointing to lose the first match on a different surface,” she said. “It doesn’t give you much confidence. But also I’m trying not to take away the confidence I got from Roland Garros, which was not too bad.”
Ultimately, Svitolina is going to have to be patient while she waits for her form to return. All she can do in the meantime is work hard on the practice court and keep playing matches, and the WTA tour will soon see back at her best. She is too good a player to be stuck in the doldrums for long.
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