There was a familiar but unexpected sight at the Australian Open on Wednesday morning - reigning champion Ash Barty out on Margaret Court Arena. Don't get your hopes up for a comeback though, as the three-time grand slam champion was out on court hitting with aspiring Indigenous players hoping to follow in her illustrious footsteps.
Barty, who announced she was pregnant on the eve of the Australian Open, was joined by fellow Australian Open champion Evonne Goolagong for First Nations Day at the grand slam, the second year the event has been held. Jelena Dokic was also on hand, and couldn't help but think of what a potential comeback would look like.
Fellow tournament champion Naomi Osaka also announced she was pregnant prior to the Australian Open, and has flagged her intention to come back to the sport. Dokic was asked if Barty might herself be tempted into a comeback, but her answer summed up Barty's mindset since she made her announcement.
"We can only dream," Dokic cracked. “It would be great to see her back." Barty was interviewed by Tennis Australia and joked that her days of hitting were now 'few and far between'.
Barty's absence has been keenly felt at the Australian Open this year, with a wide open women's draw and an home contingent absent the injured Nick Kyrgios and Ajla Tomljanovic, who withdrew just days before the first round was set to start. However the former World No.1 said there was a string depth of talent behind her successor in the world rankings, Iga Swiatek, many of whom were well placed for a grand slam breakthrough.
“In the women’s draw, there’s so much depth spread across the board and you have to have quality over the whole calendar to be a top player,” Barty said. “I think Iga has obviously shown she was probably that level above most for most of last year, but there are certainly some very good players in there that may not have had slam success in terms of winning it but have made quarters and semis.
“I think it will come down to whoever can handle the occasion best, trust themselves and play their best tennis.”
Australian Open battered by delays from heat, rain
While Barty's venture back onto the court went off without a hitch, Australian open schedulers would be looking to take some inspiration from her ice-cool demeanour on court after numerous delays due to the weather in Melbourne. Play was halted for several hours on Tuesday afternoon after the tournaments extreme heat policy was triggered, only for a rain delay to force much of the evening's action to be postponed.
To make matter worse on Wednesday, play on all outside courts will be suspended until at least 2pm due to rain in Melbourne. Only three matches started on time on Wednesday, one involving World No.1 Iga Swiatek on Rod Laver Arena. Rafa Nadal was expected to warm-up on the outside courts for his 2pm match against American Mackenzie McDonald, but 22-time grand slam champion was moved to an inside training arena.
WTA star Kirsten Flipkens was one player to point out that players could find it hard to sleep not knowing when her match was scheduled. While unaffected by the rain delay herself, she felt most players would lose sleep over the rescheduling.
The extreme heat policy was enacted for the best part of three hours on a scorching day two of the Australian Open, with action suspended on the outside courts at Melbourne Park on a day when the temperature peaked at 37C. Action continued throughout the break with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena, John Cain Arena and Margaret Court Arena, while play eventually resumed on all courts shortly after 1700 (AEDT).
The delay impacted Aussie young gun Alexei Popyrin on Tuesday, despite surging into the second round of the Australian Open. His match finished after 2am as Popyrin came back from the brink to beat Taiwanese player Chun-Hsin Tseng 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.
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