Tennis superstar Ash Barty has paid a heartfelt thanks to officials for pressing ahead with the Australian Open after making a successful comeback after 11 months out of action.
Australia's world No.1 safely progressed to the last 16 of an Open tune-up event in Melbourne with a 6-3 6-3 win over Romanian Ana Bogdan on Tuesday night.
After shedding the rust in an exhibition 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.
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 during the coronavirus pandemic.
"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."
Barty last year 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.