Ash Barty takes centre stage in $71 million Australian Open drama

Ashleigh Barty joked she was sick of seeing her own face as she prepares to take top billing at the Australian Open.

No Australian woman has won the singles title in Melbourne since Chris O'Neil in 1978, almost 20 years before Barty was born.

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But, as the world No.1 and French Open champion, Barty will be all too aware that fans will flock to Melbourne Park more in expectation than hope.

There is certainly no doubt who the star of the show is from a home perspective, with Barty's image adorning posters and billboards across the city.

"My face is everywhere a little bit, isn't it? I'm a bit sick of it to be honest," she said ahead of her opener on Monday night against Lesia Tsurenko.

Ashleigh Barty, pictured here speaking to the media ahead of the Australian Open.
Ashleigh Barty speaks to the media ahead of the Australian Open. (Photo by DAVID GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)

"There's no extra pressure. I don't read the papers. I don't look into any more than I need to. I'm here with my team trying to do the best that we can.

"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."

The laid-back Queenslander seems as well-placed as anyone to deal with the intense spotlight, and she is determined to enjoy rather than endure the next fortnight.

"It's been obviously an exciting 12 months since the last time I sat here," she said.

"It's been a really nice couple of weeks leading up to the Australian Open. Obviously coming back to Melbourne, I have really good memories from last year.

"It's important to embrace it, enjoy everything that comes along with it. You don't get to play an Australian Open every single week. You don't get to play a grand slam every single week."

Ashleigh Barty, pictured here after winning the Adelaide International on Saturday.
Ashleigh Barty won the Adelaide International on Saturday. (Photo by BRENTON EDWARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Record $71 million prize money on offer

The likes of Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, men's defending champion Novak Djokovic and the great Roger Federer are among the international superstars in action as the game's biggest and best fight it out for a record $71 million in prize money.

After beginning the season by losing her opening match at the Brisbane International, Barty won her first tour-level title on Australian soil on Saturday with victory at the WTA event in Adelaide.

"Obviously it's the perfect preparation," she said. "But, regardless of whether I won the title or not last week, I feel like I'm well prepared.

"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."

Barty got a taste of what she can expect this fortnight last year, when she made it to the quarter-finals before losing to Petra Kvitova.

"I have so many good memories from playing on Rod Laver Arena," she said.

"It's a beautiful court. I'm excited to get out there tomorrow night. Every experience I've had over the last 12 months will hopefully help me."

Osaka and Williams will be in action on a blockbuster opening day in the women's draw while Coco Gauff will try to repeat her Wimbledon victory over Venus Williams.



Women's singles, first round

1-Ashleigh Barty v Lesia Tsurenko (UKR)

Samantha Stosur v Catherine McNally (USA)

Lizette Cabrera v Ann Li (USA)

Men's singles, first round

Andrew Harris v 8-Matteo Berrettini (ITA)

John-Patrick Smith v 22-Guido Pella (ARG)

Jordan Thompson v Alexander Bublik (KAZ)

John Millman v Ugo Humbert (FRA)

Marc Polmans v Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ)

Max Purcell v Jannik Sinner (ITA)


Women's singles, first round

Ajla Tomljanovic v 31-Anastasija Sevastova (LAT)

Priscilla Hon v Kateryna Kozlova (UKR)

Astra Sharma v 28-Anett Kontaveit (EST)

Arina Rodionova v Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR)

Men's singles, first round

23-Nick Kyrgios v Lorenzo Sonego (ITA)

Alexei Popyrin v 28-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)

James Duckworth v Aljaz Bedene (SLO)

Chris O'Connell v 17-Andrey Rublev (RUS)

Alex Bolt v Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP)