Former Australian tennis greats Pat Cash, Jelena Dokic and Rennae Stubbs think Ash Barty is playing well enough to become the first home player to win the Australian Open singles title since 1978. Barty is through to the quarter-finals for the second year in a row and she meets Czech Petra Kvitova, who beat her at the same stage here 12 months ago.
According to WA today, Cash, a former Wimbledon champion, says "Serena, Osaka, they're no longer in the tournament. She can manoeuvre the other players around and play her style of game. I don't think any players left in the draw will really frighten her.
Obviously it's whoever plays best on the day in the best-of-three sets and if you run hot for a little bit you can win the match but I don't see anybody that she will be particularly frightened about. When (Kvitova's) hot, she’s hot.
But Ash is a better player than she was this time last year. A significantly better player. And I think she will get enough balls back and make it difficult. If Petra swings away and hits a lot of winners and Ash gets tight then it could happen but I don’t think Ash has player her best tennis this summer, by a long shot.
But she is getting through matches – that last one [a three-set win against Alison Riske of the US] was tricky – and she finds a way. That’s what you do when you’re in form and you’re winning matches.
I think she will improve enough to get over Kvitova and through the next rounds into the final." Dokic, a former World No. 4, had picked Barty as the favourite to win even before the tournament started and still thinks Barty will go all the way, "It’s extremely difficult.
Not a lot of people have done it over the years. It’s tough to play at home. I was someone who really liked to play in Australia. I did well here. But at the same time you still feel that extra pressure, the media attention, expectation, it’s a lot tougher to do no matter how well you handle pressure.
I’m sure she is feeling it a bit more here than she does anywhere else but so far, so good." Stubbs, who was better known for her stellar doubles career, says, "Everyone talks about her winning the French [Open] but I think one of the most significant wins for her was winning in Shenzen.
I think that was a significant win as any she has proven herself to be a player who can beat anyone on any given day and her confidence is there now. That confidence, combined with improvements in both her backhand and serve, has pulled all the pieces of the puzzle together, according to Cash.
I think having the expectation is a bit of a double-edged sword and Ash expects to do well as well. That adds a little bit of pressure. I don’t think she played loosely this year. But now she is through to this stage, she can relax a little bit.
If she had lost beforehand people would have said that’s a disappointment and she would think the same thing. She is obviously eyeing off trying to win the title but there is no shame in losing to Kvitova or whoever else is in the tournament.
I think this is a time where she can start relaxing and I think her best tennis is ahead of her. Definitely her serve [is better]. Her backhand is better, her mental focus, it’s good. I think by and large her two weakest shots were consistency on her first serve and her backhand and they’ve both been improved. Then you have the confidence that goes with all that."