Two years ago Ashleigh Barty was on her way to victory in the girls’ event, this week she’s proving she belongs in the big league.
The unassuming 17-year-old will contest her second Grand Slam doubles semi-final on Friday with Casey Dellacqua after ousting some higher seeded duos. She also made it to the quarter-finals of the mixed event with fellow Australian John Peers, but they were defeated in the quarter-finals by top seeds Lisa Raymond and Bruno Soares.
Earlier this year Barty made it to her first singles WTA quarter-final in Kuala Lumpur and in January broke into the world’s top 150. And she’s only 17.
Barty first burst onto the scene when she won a wild card into Australian Open in 2012 as a 15-year-old, slashing her way through a draw brimming with more experienced players including her team-mate this week, Dellacqua.
“When we get out there I think we complement each other well, lift each other up and whatever we need to in every situation,” Dellacqua said of Barty.
“We actually haven’t played that much together. I think people think we’ve been playing together for it might seem like ages but this year this is only our fourth tournament together.”
Being good friends off the court has helped their partnership flourish, but another reason behind this success is the maturity that Barty displays on and off the court. The Queenslander is developing a game built on variation, precision and intelligence, while her calmness and ability to cope under pressure are fast becoming her signature, quite impressive for a teenager.
"Ash is a quality person and a delightful young lady," Andre Agassi’s former coach Darren Cahill said. "The fact that she plays exceptional tennis for her age is secondary to the way she's been brought up and type of person she's blossomed into."
Barty has worked with Cahill and Agassi’s former trainer Gil Reyes as part of an Adidas Development Camp, just another component in Barty’s development.
"Success will come to her on the big stage at some point of her career, but at the moment it's about putting those building blocks in the right place and learning from these experiences," said Cahill who is not the only person bullish about Barty’s place among the game’s rising stars.
''When I come to a tournament, I see a few new names like Ashleigh Barty. She has a really, really pretty game. I really enjoy watching her,'' said world No.2 Victoria Azarenka earlier this year.
Barty is part of a group of rising stars that includes world No.64 Donna Vekic, also born in 1996, and No.66 Eugenie Bouchard, also a fellow Wimbledon junior champion. Currently ranked No.169, Barty is on a restricted tournament schedule, which is imposed by the WTA on all players under the age of 18.
“I think there’s pros and cons to both [being restricted or not restricted],” said Barty. “I think I’m in a very unique situation being in top 50 in doubles but it’s just a part of my tennis career so far and I just have to put up with it and plan it specifically.
“What we’ve done is I’ve had good success at the tournaments I’ve played so we just need to make sure I maximise what I can and obviously still have fun while trying to do that and still try to get a good mix of ITF and WTA tournaments and try and get a few singles wins as well and doubles wins.”
Which brings us back to this week where Barty and Dellacqua are the 12th seeds in the ladies’ doubles. So far they have accounted for the second- and fifth-seeded pairs on their way to the semi-finals where seventh seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke await.
And should Barty and Dellacqua continue to back each other up and play like they have so far this week, then there’s every chance they will still be smiling after Saturday’s doubles final.
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