'Someone else': Tennis great's thinly veiled swipe at Ash Barty

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Pictured here, Ash Barty training ahead of the 2022 Australian Open.
Ash Barty is celebrating 102 consecutive weeks at the top of women's tennis. Pic: Getty

Ash Barty will relinquish her status as World No.1 in 2022, with Garbiñe Muguruza or Aryna Sabalenka the most likely to take the Aussie's crown, according to tennis great Pam Shriver.

Barty's extraordinary consistency has seen her remain at the top of women's tennis for three consecutive seasons, with the 25-year-old adding a maiden Wimbledon title in 2021 to cap off a remarkable year.

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The Aussie goes into the Australian Open with her best chance yet to break Australia's most infamous sporting drought, with her and Naomi Osaka the only female stars with single-digit odds when it comes to the betting markets for the year's first grand slam.

The absence of seven-times champion Serena Williams, doubts over Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic and several other COVID-19 sufferers and an extraordinary shake-up of the top 10 have left Barty as the clear Melbourne Park favourite.

Beyond the old guard of former No.1s Karolina Pliskova and the resurgent Muguruza lay a fresh but mostly unproven batch of challengers.

Tunisian trailblazer Ons Jabeur, Spaniard Paula Badosa, Estonian Anett Kontaveit, Greek sensation Maria Sakkari and the Czech Republic's shock French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova all finished the year inside the top 10 for the first time in 2021.

Ash Barty coming off amazing 2021

Barty stopped short of declaring her five-title haul in 2021 her best season yet, but admitted that her preparation for a ninth Open tilt felt less cramped after finishing up in September and opting out of the season-ending championship and Billie Jean King Cup in November and December.

"But until you play that first match, you never quite know until you kind of dip your toes in again into what it feels like for the competition," she said.

"It's a different beast. You just need to enjoy that and work your way through it in the first couple weeks because not often are you playing your very best tennis right at the start.

"You have to work your way in, earn that right.

"I'm looking forward to that challenge starting here in Adelaide of trying to find my groove, really enjoy being out on the match court again."

Even though Barty has celebrated 102 consecutive weeks as the World No.1, tennis great Shriver isn't convinced the Aussie can stay at the top in 2022.

"Actually, I think there will be a new No.1," Shriver told the WTA.

"I'm not exactly sure whom, but I think Ash has had a great run and I think it could be somebody in the top five.

"I'm looking at the points, and I think the most likely one is Garbiñe Muguruza.

"It could be Aryna Sabalenka, if she buries those demons. It wasn't just what Garbiñe showed at Guadalajara, but she and [coach] Conchita [Martinez] have developed a solid partnership. I feel she's underachieved in the last couple of years, but I think the second half of 2021 she started to show more of the promise that took her to a French and a Wimbledon title.

Seen here, Aryna Sabalenka celebrates after winning the title in Madrid in 2021.
Aryna Sabalenka looms as one of the biggest threats to Ash Barty's status as World No.1. Pic: Getty

"I'm looking at Ash's lead and it's not insignificant.

"Ash Barty, as great as she is, I don't see her as being on top for 154 consecutive weeks. She's so solid, but I just think someone else is going to step up".

Ash Barty looking to snap Australian Open drought

Barty has entered the new season guarded but fancies her chances of becoming the first local hope to win the Australian Open since the unseeded Chris O'Neil in 1978.

"It's as good as anyone's," the Wimbledon champion said of her Open prospects on Monday.

"There will be 128 of us in the draw. We'll all do the same thing, do the best we can do. That's all we can ask, all we can do."

As ever, Barty remains respectful and wary of her emerging new threats.

"There were certainly a number of breakout years through 2021, girls really stepped up, were able to play really consistent seasons which is exciting to see for the women's game," said the dual grand slam winner.

"You have obviously seen those girls that have been at the top for a very long time. Some had a rough run with injury, others had pretty solid years. It feels like it's just good competition.

"Genuinely there is really good depth and you have to bring your best time and time again to be able to compete with everyone and give yourself a chance to win the big titles."

with AAP

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