No.1 Barty relaxed ahead of Open start

Darren Walton
·3-min read

Carrying the hopes of a nation once again, Ash Barty insists she is unburdened by the weight of expectation going into the Australian Open as top seed for the second time.

All eyes will be on Barty when she takes on Montenegro's world No.77 Danka Kovinic in the first round of the Open on Tuesday night.

Second favourite with the bookmakers behind Japanese superstar Naomi Osaka, Barty's odds shortened significantly after the 24-year-old rounded out a perfect preparation with an emphatic straight-sets win over 2020 Open finalist Garbine Muguruza in Sunday's Yarra Valley Classic final.

But try telling the world No.1 she has an obligation to live up to her ranking and finally end Australia's 43-year wait for a home-grown local singles champion at Melbourne Park.

"No, no, no," Barty said.

"I feel exactly as the other 127 girls that are playing. We're all in the same draw.

"There's no extra pressure for me, that's for sure. It's the same whether it's a grand slam or a first level of a tour event, any other match.

"The extra pressure and the extra chatter comes from you guys. That's not really my concern. It doesn't change the way that I prepare or I play."

Despite being an overwhelming favourite to advance to a second-round clash with either compatriot Daria Gavrilova or Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, Barty is not looking beyond Kovinic.

Nor should she. Nerves will undoubtedly be a factor.

Last year after also warming up for the Open with title success, this time in Adelaide, Barty dropped the first set in her opener against world No.120 Lesia Tsurenko before finding her game to progress to round two and ultimately making the semi-finals.

"My focus is on my first round," she said.

"We look forward to a new challenge, a different opponent. That's all I can worry about: do the right things for me, do the right things for my team, then we move from there."

Barty is among 14 Australians in action on day two.

Aussie men's No.1 Alex de Minaur opens his tournament against two-time quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren, the American who held match points against Roger Federer last year.

De Minaur should have a big advantage, with Sandgren one of the 72 players to endure two weeks of hard quarantine upon his arrival in Australia.

The American did not like it, either, taking to Twitter to vent his frustrations.

Jordan Thompson, Chris O'Connell, Alexei Popyrin and Thanasi Kokkinakis are also in action.

Wildcard Maddison Inglis has the most daunting assignment of the seven Australian women on court on day two, confronting fourth-seeded defending champion Sofia Kenin.

But Australia is guaranteed at least one winner, with veteran Samantha Stosur squaring off against 20-year-old countrywoman Destanee Aiava in a clash of the generations.

AUSSIES IN ACTION ON DAY TWO OF THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN AT MELBOURNE PARK (PREFIX DENOTES SEEDING):

Women's singles, first round

1-Ash Barty v Danka Kovinic (MNE)

Daria Gavrilova v Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP)

Astra Sharma v Nao Hibino (JPN)

Maddison Inglis v 4-Sofia Kenin (USA)

Samantha Stosur v Destanee Aiava

Arina Rodionova v Madison Brengle (USA)

Men's singles, first round

21-Alex de Minaur v Tennys Sandgren (USA)

Jordan Thompson v 24-Casper Ruud (NOR)

Chris O'Connell v Jan-Lennard Struff (GER)

Alexei Popyrin v 13-David Goffin (BEL)

Thanasi Kokkinakis v Sonwoo Kwon (Kor)

Aleksandar Vukic v 19-Karen Khachanov (RUS)

Li Tu v Feliciano Lopez (ESP)