Ash Barty is tipping big things from Ajla Tomljanovic in 2023 after making a stunning statement about her compatriot. The retired Aussie tennis champ won't be at Melbourne Park to defend her Australian Open title in 2023, having shocked the world by walking away from the sport at the age of 25 earlier this year.
However, the three-time major winner says Australians don't have to look any further than Tomljanovic when wondering where the country's next female major winner will come from. Filling Barty's shoes is an almost impossible task but Tomljanovic has already exceeded expectations as Australian tennis' new women's No.1.
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Barty says a breakout season for the 29-year-old has Tomljanovic primed for a big season ahead. The 29-year-old became the first Aussie female since the legendary Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1979 to reach Wimbledon and US Open quarter-finals in a single season, sensationally ended Serena Williams' unrivalled career in New York, and guided Australia to the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup final.
Tomljanovic's incredible form leaves her on the cusp of earning what could be a crucial seeding for the Australian Open in January, as one of the top-32 female players in the world. Tomljanovic is currently in pole position to be granted a grand slam seeding for the first time in her career, due to Simona Halep's provisional suspension over a failed drug test.
The 10th-ranked former No.1 Halep has not entered the Australian Open, meaning Tomljanovic only needs to maintain her career-high World No.33 ranking beyond the season-opening United Cup from December 29 to January 8 to be seeded at her home slam.
"She's had an exceptional year and deserves to be higher-ranked than she is at the moment," Barty told AAP. "But you can't do anything about that situation. It is what it is and what's held her in really good stead is that she's accepted that and she's getting better and better and better.
"A couple of big quarter-finals in slams this year, she played some exceptional tennis and she's someone that Aussies can be very proud of."
In July, Tomljanovic claimed the opening set of a pulsating quarter-final against eventual Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina before also losing a high-quality US Open last-eight encounter to world No.2 Ons Jabeur. When asked whether Tomljanovic may soon be ready to take over from Barty's mantle as the golden girl of Australian tennis and challenge for grand slam titles, the retired champion said without hesitation: "She already is".
"And that's the genuine feeling among the players," Barty added. "Certainly when I played Ajla, I knew I had to be at my absolute very best or she'd completely roll me.
"And she's got that respect from everyone. She's earned that respect over a number of years in her turning up every single day. She's been through some awful injuries. She's had hiccups and bumps along the way all through her career and now - fingers crossed, touch wood - that's kind of settled a little bit.
"It can always be taken away very quickly from you as an athlete but she's had an incredible year, absolutely, and I sincerely hope that she has a big Australian summer so that everyone can celebrate with her. She's doing a hell of a job."
Ash Barty finishes 2022 with fifth Newcombe Medal
Earlier this month, Barty claimed a record fifth Newcombe Medal after being named Australia's best tennis player of 2022, ahead of the likes of Tomljanovic and Nick Kyrgios. As well as the drought-breaking Australian Open title - the nation's first singles crown at Melbourne Park in 44 years - Barty also claimed the Adelaide International singles title and combined with Storm Hunter (nee Sanders) to sweep the doubles trophy, before ending her tennis career ranked World No.1.
Kyrgios - who won the doubles title with Thanasi Kokkinakis at the Australian Open and finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final - lashed Aussie tennis officials shortly after Barty claimed the Newcombe Medal. Kyrgios captioned a graphic - which included his 61 match wins for 2022 compared to Barty's 14 - with the words: "LOL. No respect at all. I don't give a f***," in the apparent swipe at Aussie tennis officials.
Barty's fifth Newcombe Medal capped off a brilliant career, which included three singles grand slams: the 2019 French Open, 2021 Wimbledon and her Melbourne Park triumph. The Queenslander also won the 2018 US Open doubles title with CoCo Vandeweghe.
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