Hingis, Stosur full of admiration for Barty
Grand Slam champions Martina Hingis and Sam Stosur are watching Ash Barty with both interest and admiration as the world No.1 prepares for her assault on the Aussie summer.
After drawing comparisons with Martina Hingis as a junior, Ash Barty is now impressing the Swiss great with her storied rise to world No.1.
Similarly impressed is Sam Stosur, who believes Barty has the mindset — and the best team around her — to block out the noise and focus on the process of producing her best tennis as she attempts to become the first local Australian Open champion since 1978.
Former Australian Fed Cup captain David Taylor, who coached Stosur to the 2011 US Open title, first likened Barty’s cunning court craft to Hingis’ some six years ago but cautioned against overburdening the precocious teenager with expectations.
Taylor’s concerns were realised several months later when Barty walked away from tennis before embarking on a spectacular comeback in 2016.
Hingis, who won the first of her 20 Grand Slam doubles crowns as a 15-year-old before claiming the Australian Open singles title at 16, has monitored Barty’s career closely, aware of the comparisons and understanding of the Queenslander’s journey.
Hingis believes Barty’s sabbatical was the making of the now-French Open champion and world No.1.
“Since she’s been away and become No.1 and won a slam, she doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody,” said the five-time Grand Slam singles champion.
“Now you just feel like she’s out there because she loves it and loves what she’s doing and that’s why she’s had this success.
“Before maybe it was ‘okay, I’m playing for someone else or because of someone else’.”
Gushing in her praise of Barty’s game, Hingis said the 23-year-old’s style was a breath of fresh air for tennis.
“There’s a lot of things she does that’s really great, what I love about her game is just her fluidity,” Hingis said.
“I think before she had all the shots but didn’t always use the right things at the right time, which was good enough in juniors.
“But now I think she’s kind of found herself. She’s grounded now and she knows what she wants and I just love the variety about her game.
“She has all the shots and the repertoire is so big and again you can call her game tennis. It’s not just boom boom and full power.
“She’s got that too – obviously, she’s a very strong girl – but she’s also got a different style to what we’ve probably seen in the last 10 years.”
Hingis, who completed an Australian Open title hat-trick during a run of six successive finals in Melbourne between 1997 and 2002, believes Barty as top seed in 2020 is equipped to handle the home-town hype and pressure.
“She’s going through that right now so I think she knows it best,” said the former world No.1.
Stosur was also aware of the hype that would surround Barty when she arrived at Melbourne Park in January.
Having tried unsuccessfully herself, Stosur believes Barty must reveal her selfish side if she’s to break Australia’s 41-year Australian Open title drought next month.
As a dual Grand Slam finalist, Stosur carried the hopes of the nation into the annual summer of tennis for years while entrenched in the world’s top 10.
But the pressure on world No.1 Barty will be next level when the 23-year-old arrives in Melbourne as Australia’s first women’s top seed at the Australian Open since Dianne Fromholtz in 1977.
“It’s definitely not that easy. That’s what I felt when I won the US Open that year and then came into the AO as the next Grand Slam and it’s not that easy to do that,” Stosur told AAP.
“I think what Ash has got in her favour compared to what I had is she actually has already played well at the Australian Open.
“She made quarters this year, the finals of Sydney, whereas I kind of struggled in the Australian conditions and that first little chunk of the year has never really been so easy for me.
“So I think that in itself is going to help her, but it’s totally a different kettle of fish now going into it as world No.1.”
Stosur suspects everyone from fans to media and sponsors will want a piece of Barty over the summer.
“But she keeps things pretty low key and down to earth and I’m sure the people around her who have gone through this whole experience this year would have learnt a whole stack of things,” said Barty’s fellow Queenslander and Fed Cup teammate.
“They would have thought, ‘Alright, January, this is our plan and this is how we’re going to do things and we’re going to stick to it’.
“It’s different but I’m sure she can handle it.”
Asked what advice she had for the French Open champion, Stosur said: “Probably just don’t read into too much and think about your own expectations and what you want to achieve more than anyone else.
“You don’t have to go and please anyone else. You play for you, you do what you really strongly believe in and that’s all that really matters.
“Then you’re going to perform to your best capabilities.”
Stosur is convinced Barty is equipped to win the Open — and maybe many more major titles to come.
“She would never have dreamed of winning the French Open so once we’ve seen that she’s capable of doing that, god, who knows what she’s going to be able to do for the rest of her career,” Stosur said.
“She’s still young and obviously has the ability to do great things.”
Among those great things was a tour-best 13 wins from a set down in 2019, proving that Barty is one of the toughest competitors in tennis.
And she wants it known she is not only the world No.1, but also one of the game’s biggest fighters.
For all the trophies and accolades she accrued in a banner season, it was Barty’s remarkable come-from-behind record that underpinned her unprecedented rise from outside the top 10 to year-end No.1.
“I think that’s an Australian quality. We all want to be known as fighters,” Barty told AAP after winning a tour-leading 57 matches in 2019.
“I certainly want to be known, when my career is done, as someone who was respected by their peers, gave everything on the court and never kind of rolled over but played the game in the right spirit.”
Barty completed successive comeback wins over Belinda Bencic and world No.2 Karolina Pliskova en route to the title at the prestigious WTA Finals in China.
But it was her tenacious fightback from a set and 3-0 down against Amanda Anisimova in the French Open semifinals, having blown a 5-0 lead in the opening set, that most emphatically demonstrated Barty has the substance to match the style.
“There have been so many different moments throughout the year that I’ve been extremely proud of myself and some maybe less obvious to the rest of the world than it is to me, some of the bigger moments to be able to kind of get through matches,” she said.
“One that springs to mind is the semifinal at the French Open.”