By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Ash Barty is already sick of the sight of her face plastered all over Melbourne but feels she is as well prepared as possible for a shot at ending her country’s 42-year wait for a homegrown Australian Open champion.
The world number one cannot have had much time to check out the city on Sunday having hot-footed it from South Australia, where she beat Dayana Yastremska on Saturday evening to win the Adelaide International.
It was the bubbly 23-year-old’s first title triumph on home soil and Barty said she was determined to make the most of her annual one-month opportunity to enjoy success in front of her compatriots.
“It’s the perfect preparation but regardless of whether I won the title or not … I feel like I’m well-prepared,” she told reporters.
“I’m happy, I’m healthy. I’m coming into the first Grand Slam of the year with a smile on my face. That’s all I can ask of myself.”
The weight of local expectation surrounding Barty has ratcheted up since she joined the Grand Slam winners’ club at last year’s French Open before becoming the first Australian woman to top the world rankings since Evonne Goolagong-Cawley.
Barty said she felt no extra pressure and could not wait to get out on court on Monday to face Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko in front of what will be a partisan Rod Laver Arena crowd.
“It’s amazing to have so much support and so much love from the Australian public. I’ve really felt that in an exceptional way over the last 12 months. It’s been incredible,” she said.
“I think it’s a bit of a feeling when you walk out on the court, it’s almost electric that the crowd’s involved, that I’ve got so much love and support from the crowd. It’s amazing.
“I think when they really get invested in the match, it’s really special.”
Barty is well aware that no Australian has ever won the title at the Melbourne Park venue, with the last local success — Chris O’Neil’s triumph in 1978 — coming before the tournament was moved from Kooyong.
Her brutal 6-1 6-4 dismantling at the hands of Petra Kvitova in the quarter-finals last year is probably still fresh enough in her mind to remove any complacency, however.
“It’s a long, long way away,” she said when asked what it might mean if she broke Australia’s barren spell.
“Obviously for all of us (Australians), it’s a dream. For every player in this draw it’s a dream to try and win a Grand Slam.
“We’ll just try to do the best we can tomorrow night and see how we go.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)