'It's unbelievable': Rival's stunning admission about Ash Barty
Aryna Sabalenka is arguably the biggest threat to Ash Barty's hopes of winning the US Open, but the Belarusian is the first to admit that the Aussie is playing at a level that her rivals can only aspire to right now.
Barty goes into the year's fourth and final major tournament as a deserved favourite, having claimed five titles in a fruitful 2021 to extend her stay at the top of the world rankings.
'NOT GOOD ENOUGH': Naomi Osaka's powerful statement at US Open
'IT'S CRAZY': Djokovic caught in 'ridiculous' US Open furore
'THINGS I DID WRONG': Naomi Osaka's mental health admission
Sabalenka has the rare honour this year of defeating Barty in a final when she prevailed in three sets at the Madrid Open for the tenth WTA singles title of her career.
However, Barty reaffirmed her favouritism at Flushing Meadows by winning the Cincinnati Open in a perfect build up to the US Open.
Enjoying her 93rd week as world No.1, Barty has a whopping 3175-point rankings lead - equivalent to one and a half grand slam titles - over world No.2 Sabalenka, who hailed the Australian an inspiration to her challengers.
"What she's doing, it's unbelievable," the Belarusian said.
"She's playing really well. Her game is really tough. She's a really tough opponent for most of the players on the tour.
"That's why she's doing what she's doing.
"Yeah, what she's doing, it's a goal for every player to be on the top for, like, so long and be consistently there.
"That's something unbelievable.
"She's serving well. She can use the slice, which is for most of the girls a really uncomfortable shot. She can hit the ball pretty heavy.
"She has everything in her hand, so she can do everything.
"That's what's makes her stronger than everybody."
While Barty is happy to hear the praise for her biggest rivals, the Aussie is all business ahead of her first round US Open match against two-time grand slam finalist Vera Zvonareva.
"We're not quite finished yet, so we'll wait till our adventure comes to an end before we go and start reminiscing," Barty said before Wednesday's (AEST) first round match.
"I've never played Vera before. But she's a player who loves the conditions here. She's made a final here before, obviously is very comfortable on the big courts here.
"It's a match I'll have to be ready for straight away, which is great.
"It's a good challenge, someone who's experienced, has played a lot of big matches and is really comfortable here in New York."
Ash Barty all business in New York
Barty is locked in her own grand slam bubble, admitting that despite Manhattan's relative freedoms compared to Australia's near-nationwide lockdown, she's not really interested in getting out and about in the Big Apple.
"Obviously we spend our time here at the courts doing what we need to do," the 25-year-old said.
"Once we're back at the hotel, a lot of the time it's pretty quiet for me. I'll wander town to a cafe and get a coffee, and that's about it."
Barty opted out of last year's Open because of the worldwide uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, deciding instead to stay and train in Australia.
"I was probably sitting on my couch at home with the dogs. Certainly wasn't watching," admitted Barty, who has returned to the tour in spectacular fashion this season, doing a mighty job peaking for the big events.
"It's a balance. Trusting myself and trusting the work that we do behind the scenes is the right thing," she added.
"Also accepting that you're not going to play your best tennis every week so sometimes trying to prioritise those bigger events is important.
"Not every one we've got right and that's OK.
"We're learning along the way and this year has been a really good balance overall of some good stuff and not too many matches where we've been disappointed."
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.