Obstacles aplenty lurk for Wimbledon favourite Barty - GulfToday

Obstacles aplenty lurk for Wimbledon favourite Barty

Julia-Goerges

Ashleigh Barty (right) and Julia Goerges (left) attend a practice session ahead of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London on Saturday. Associated Press

The angle of Ash Barty’s climb to the top of women’s tennis has been so steep, the rise so fast, that the sight of her name perched on top of the Wimbledon draw as top seed and favourite still requires a second glance.

When the 23-year-old Australian walks on court on Monday she will do so as the newest member of the Grand Slam winners’ club and as world number one, just three years after returning to the sport she quit at the end of 2014 for cricket.

Barty is joined at Wimbledon by 14 other Grand Slam champions and four finalists in a draw fraught with danger. She could face Spain’s 2017 Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza in the third round and awaiting in the quarter-finals could be defending champion Angelique Kerber or seven-times winner Serena Williams with twice champion Petra Kvitova a potential obstacle in the semi-final.

Predicting the outcome of women’s Grand Slams has been a fool’s game since Serena Williams earned her 23rd title at the 2017 Australian Open before breaking off to have a baby. Eight different players have won the nine Grand Slams since then with only Japan’s Naomi Osaka winning two.

The name missing from that list is Serena, who remains one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

She lost to Kerber in last year’s Wimbledon final and Osaka in a stormy US Open title match and while logic suggests time might be running out for the 37-year-old American, only the foolhardy would dismiss her chances of claiming an eighth Wimbledon title.

“She has that intangible championship quality that not a lot of players have,” says three-times Wimbledon champion Chris Evert.

“If there was any Grand Slam she was going to win, it would probably be Wimbledon. If her serve is on, she’s going to be tough to beat.”

Apart from Serena, Barty’s game looks most naturally-suited to grass which is why her making her Grand Slam breakthrough on clay was such an extraordinary achievement.

Only six women — Court, Billie Jean King, Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams — have won Wimbledon straight after the French, however, and it would take a “Herculean” effort for Barty to join that group, says Evert.

“At some point it’s got to be overwhelming, and she’s a human being,” Evert said.

“She has the game. She has the athleticism, the variety. I just kind of wonder when the tank is going to start to get a little bit empty.”

Then, there is defending champion Kerber, who appears to be finding her A-game at the perfect time having struggled with injuries on clay.

The 31-year-old left-hander is bidding to become the first woman to defend a Grand Slam title since Serena at Wimbledon in 2016 and the sixth at the All England Club in the last 50 years.

Meanwhile, Andy Murray says it “feels odd” that he and his brother Jamie are both in the Wimbledon doubles draw but are not playing together, as they contemplate a potential third-round meeting.

Murray is teaming up with Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the men’s doubles as he makes his return to Grand Slam tennis five months after undergoing hip-resurfacing surgery.

Murray said a practice session against fifth seeds Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau “didn’t go amazingly well”.

“I just hope we play a little bit better when the tournament starts.”

Murray made the perfect return to tennis by lifting the doubles title at Queen’s with Feliciano Lopez before a first-round loss alongside Marcelo Melo at Eastbourne earlier this week.

The Wimbledon draw pitted Murray and Herbert against the unseeded pair of Romania’s Marius Copil and Frenchman Ugo Humbert, but the real headline was a potential third-round meeting with Jamie and his new British partner Neal Skupski.

The 32-year-old has been in good spirits since returning to the court.

Agencies