Ash Barty inspired by Laver but staying grounded: “He was unbeatable. I’m not”

The world No 1 is through to the quarter-finals for the fourth straight year, three wins from becoming the first Australian champion since 1978

Ash Barty Rod Laver Ashleigh Barty (AUS) Rod Laver (AUS)

Australian Open 2022 | Draw Order of play

In a country where tennis legends can be found almost wherever you look, world No 1 Ash Barty has already done enough in her career to ensure her a place alongside them when she’s done wielding her racquet.

With Wimbledon (2021) and French Open (2019) titles already in the bag, Barty would dearly love to win the Australian Open, a victory that would make her the first home champion since Chris O’Neil in 1978. Barty beat Amanda Anisimova 6-4, 6-3 on Sunday to make the quarter-finals and though Rod Laver, the legend of legends, says she’s unbeatable when playing this kind of tennis, Barty herself is trying to remain grounded, focused on the task at hand.

“It’s so nice to have Rod here, first and foremost,” said Barty, who plays Jessica Pegula of the United States next. “It’s so nice to have him enjoying his own house, enjoying his own court. He was unbeatable. I’m certainly not. I’m just out here doing what I can, enjoying it, like I said, try and make my opponent’s life as uncomfortable as possible. That’s my job ultimately, and do it with a smile, have some fun with it. We try and keep it really light, just have lots of clarity, go out, have fun with it, get after it and see how we go.”

Laver’s words no extra burden for Barty

For some players, trying to emulate the kind of success that the likes of Laver, who won the calendar-year Grand Slam (all four slams), twice, in 1962 and 1969, can be a burden. For all the support they receive at home, trying to win the home Grand Slam is no easy thing. And though Barty is still chasing her first Australian Open title, she is able to stay grounded and enjoy the time she spends with Laver, and all the legends.

“Obviously he’s an exceptional human being,” she said. “He’s an amazing champion of our sport. He’s iconic. It’s just amazing to be in his presence. And in the same breath he’s also a down-to-earth Queenslander who just loves his sport. As Australians we are extremely lucky that he still is able to enjoy the tennis with us, and, yeah, hopefully has a few more left. “

Barty-Anisimova R4 AO 2022

Barty ready for casino-loving Pegula

So far, so good, then, for Barty, who lost her serve for the first time in the tournament as she recorded a straight-sets win over Anisimova, who had beaten Naomi Osaka in the previous round. With Osaka gone, the Australian is an even bigger favourite for the title. Into the last eight for the fourth straight time, she’ll play Pegula next, a player she beat on the way to winning at Roland-Garros in 2019 (as with Anisimova).

Pegula upset Greece’s Maria Sakkari 7-6, 6-3 earlier in the day, giving her plenty of time to enjoy some more time in the Crown Casino in Melbourne, her chosen mode of relaxation throughout the fortnight. She’ll need all the luck she can get, though, if Barty continues to show the form she’s shown in Melbourne. “I feel like Ash is so tactical in everything she does. Really a smart, like perfect kind of tennis player in that way,” she said.

So in the moment was Barty that she only remembered she’d played Pegula before when she was reminded by Jim Courier in her on-court interview on Sunday.

“I remember we played in the bullring in Paris. So it did check my memory,” she said. “Jess is able to control the baseline. She’s able to take time away from you, take balls particularly off her backhand. She loves these courts, she made a quarter here last year. The last couple years her progression and her confidence with the way that she plays has gone and absolutely skyrocketed.

“She’s a great competitor. Again, one of her best attributes is the fact that she can compete point in, point out, and irrelevant of the score she’s able to turn up time and time again. We just have to compete, go out there and have fun and see how we go.”

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