Why Ashleigh Barty can be Australia’s next Grand Slam champion

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Why Ashleigh Barty can be Australia’s next Grand Slam champion

It’s been a long and arduous wait for Australian tennis fans. In fact it’s been eight years since Sam Stosur lifted the US Open trophy in 2011. Since then, no Australian has reached a major final in either the men's or women's singles draws.

There’s been glimpses of hope, more prominently on the men’s side with the almighty Nick Kyrgios bursting onto the scene as a fearless teenager in 2014. He upset Rafael Nadal to book his place in the Wimbledon quarterfinals on debut and backed it up with a quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open the following year.

But since then Australians have ridden a rollercoaster of emotion with the polarising Aussie. Once touted as Australia’s ‘next big thing’ Bernard Tomic hasn’t reached a slam quarterfinal since Wimbledon 2011.

On the women’s side, Sam Stosur has been up and down since that victory and hasn’t reached the quarterfinals of a slam since 2011. Daria Gavrilova reached back to back fourth rounds at the Australian Open but could never quite break into the last eight.

She has never reached beyond the third round at the French Open or Wimbledon and a second round showing is her best result to date at the US Open. But this year Ash Barty became the first Australian woman to reach the quarterfinals at the home slam in a decade, since Jelena Dokic did so in 2009.

And now Barty is fresh off the biggest win of her career - the Miami Open - and riding a wave of confidence, cracking the world’s top 10 for the first time. Once again Australians have hope. However, this time it feels different.

Barty, although she is young, has not suddenly burst out onto the scene. This was not a one-off remarkable win. This was the result of hard work, dedication and grit. It’s been nine years since the 22 year old turned pro and nearly five years since she took a sabbatical from tennis to play cricket in the Big Bash League.

Although the move may have raised questions at the time, it may turn out to be the winning formula for the young Aussie. Unlike the Aussie men who still have a love hate relationship with the game, Barty knows this is where she wants to be.

She credits her year away from the game with making her fall in love with tennis again and realising tennis is what she wants to succeed at. In a season that has developed 14 different singles winners from as many events, the depth of the women’s draw is strong and the opportunity is there for Barty to capitalise.

Serena Williams’ power has dominated for so long, but the young stars are beginning to emerge. Since Williams won the Australian Open in 2017, there has been a different slam champion at each event. Jelena Ostapenko, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep all won their debut titles, while Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber won their second each and 21 year old Naomi Osaka has won the past two back to back.

The quiet achieving Aussie is level headed and knows what she has to execute for it all to come together. She has variety in her game, she can match the power with the hard hitters, she has an excellent serve, winning many free points from aces but she can also slice and volley and mix it up.

“A bit of a turning point was to play my brand of tennis and execute better on the big points,” Barty told AAP following her Miami victory. “Yes it’s open but I also feel like it’s stronger than ever before.

It’s about who can execute best on the day. I think for me, I’m moving in the right direction. I feel great, and I feel like I’ve got an opportunity to achieve some of my dreams. First Barty is ready to lead Australia into battle against Belarus in the Fed Cup tie, before she switches her attention to the clay court swing and Roland Garros.

Last year Barty took a set off Williams in the second round of the slam. “I think I have the game on clay to be able to do some damage, I just have to learn how to use it properly, learn how to enjoy it. It's something I haven't grown up with, obviously I'm more comfortable on hard court because I play on it more often.

But this clay court season, in particular, is an opportunity for me to learn more about myself on that surface”. Roland Garros is not the be all and end all though. With her big serve and effective slice backhand, Wimbledon could be Barty’s breakthrough.

Last year she won the lead-up tournament in Nottingham, which included a straight set victory against Osaka on grass, before she reached the third round at the slam. But Barty’s game has adapted since then and as a top ten player, growing in confidence, this is Barty’s best opportunity yet to do more damage.