London: Ashleigh Barty goes into Wimbledon buoyed, unlike her predecessor Naomi Osaka, by being world number one and with several of her major rivals struggling.
The engaging 23-year-old Australian – who emulated compatriot Evonne Goolagong Cawley by becoming number one last weekend – has yet to get beyond the third round at Wimbledon.
However, by winning the Birmingham tournament last weekend Barty showed she has the strengths to add the grass court Grand Slam to the French Open she won on clay and become the first Australian women’s champion since Goolagong Cawley’s second success in 1980.
With 37-year-old seven-time champion Serena Williams finally showing signs of age, Osaka looking exposed through poor form and two-time Wimbledon singles champion Petra Kvitova still easing back to top form after an arm injury, defending champion Angelique Kerber may be the biggest threat to Barty.
Barty, who took an unconventional route to becoming world number one by taking a time off to play cricket, insists she feels no pressure.
“The only pressure is that that I put on myself,” she said. “To make sure that I do everything correctly and prepare as best that I can to try and play a good tennis match, try and play well, to enjoy myself.”
Barty, who says the arm problem that forced her withdrawal from the Eastbourne tournament has cleared up, admits Wimbledon is unique among the Grand Slam events in having so few lead-up events on the surface.
“Wimbledon isn’t a normal event,” she said. “It’s a little bit bizarre coming into Wimbledon having only played one grass court tournament. We feel like we’ve been striking the ball really well, we’re comfortable with the grass under our feet.”
Whilst Barty says she did not know what else the draw held for her, Williams claimed not to even know the Australian was number one.
The American legend could perhaps be forgiven her ignorance given how often the top spot has changed since her era of dominance ended.