Ash Barty has paid a touching tribute to Victorians after winning her first competitive tennis match in 11 months.
Australia’s World No.1 sailed into the last 16 of the WTA Yarra Valley Classic on Tuesday night, beating Romania’s Ana Bogdan 6-3 6-3.
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After an exhibition match against World No.2 Simona Halep last Friday night in Adelaide, Barty was largely untroubled in beating the 93rd-ranked Bogdan in one hour and 12 minutes.
It marked Barty’s first competitive match since last March after the Aussie star opted to sit out the remainder of 2020 due to the coronavirus situation.
Barty, who next plays Czech Marie Bouzkova on Wednesday for a place in the quarter-finals, admitted it was tough to sit out the bulk of 2020 while most of her rivals played on.
“I wrestled with the decision for quite a while,” she said.
“But, for me, I had to prioritise. Not only for me first and foremost but also my team and my family, and I think it just shows how tough it can be.
“I feel for all you guys down here, what you've gone through in the last six, seven months down here in Victoria.
“So I'm extremely grateful to be here and I'm exceptionally proud to be an Aussie and just be on this beautiful court again.”
Last year Barty became the first local woman since Wendy Turnbull in 1984 to reach the Australian Open semi-finals.
The 24-year-old will be top seed for the second year running when the season’s rescheduled opening grand slam starts next Monday.
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Meanwhile, Nick Kyrgios, Matt Ebden, Jordan Thompson, James Duckworth, Alexei Popyrin, Andrew Harris and teenager Dane Sweeny continued the surge of local successes with round-one wins during the Melbourne Summer Series on Tuesday.
Their triumphs followed Chris O'Connell, Jason Kubler, Aleksandar Vukic, Max Purcell, Alex Bolt and Harry Bourchier as winners so far this week in the three Australian Open lead-up tournaments.
“A bunch of the Aussie guys just kept winning, winning, winning ... everybody, just about,” Ebden said after his own impressive win.
“I'm not surprised really. Early in the year it's pretty usual, us Aussies. Even the younger guys always play well the first week or two of the year.
“For us it's just a continuation of training, matches, it's our home conditions.
“Whereas everyone else comes here and they haven't played for two, three months and not in these conditions. So it's natural that it's a big advantage.”
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