LONDON (Reuters) - Ashleigh Barty concedes not even she could have imagined climbing to number one in the world rankings heading into Wimbledon but for fellow Australian Samantha Stosur it is no surprise.
Stosur, who peaked at world number four and won the 2011 U.S. Open, has been a figurehead for Australian women’s tennis for over a decade. Barty, 23, has now taken on that role.
This month, against all the odds, the Queenslander became the first Australian woman for 46 years to win the French Open despite having never expressed a liking for claycourt tennis.
On Sunday she followed that with the Birmingham title on her beloved grass to reach the top of the WTA rankings — the first woman from her country to do so since Evonne Goolagong for a brief two-week stint in 1976.
All this after she dropped out of tennis in 2015 and played top-level cricket in her native Queensland.
While Barty’s varied all-court game, including the best sliced backhand in women’s tennis, has been instrumental in her march up the rankings, Stosur believes Barty’s biggest weapon is her ability to out-think her opponents.
“She has every shot in the book. She can have a big forehand when she wants to use it, the slice puts a lot of players into uncomfortable positions,” Stosur told Reuters at this week’s Mallorca Open. “The first serve is incredibly accurate and she’s a good mover. It’s kind of the full package.
“But it’s knowing when to use what at the right time. That’s what Ash is very good at. She has a very good tactical mind.
“I remember talking to her at Fed Cup matches and talking about opponents and she was always very switched on and knows very clearly what she needs to do.
“I’ve always noticed that from when she was very young. That’s not normal.
“She just has that eye to be able to work things out. It’s a massive bonus to be able to think your way through a match.”
Stosur, who herself battled back from illness on her way to beating Serena Williams in the 2011 U.S. Open final, said Barty’s self-imposed break from tennis had been key to her reaching her full potential on her return.
And the 35-year-old is convinced Barty’s laid-back and rounded attitude will hold her in good stead as she prepares to go into the Wimbledon glare as top seed.
“She is playing fantastic and grass is a surface that she openly says she can’t wait to get on every year,” Stosur said.
“I don’t think she went to the French thinking she had a shot which is maybe why she went there and put no pressure on herself, she was just playing it and enjoying it, and getting through the rounds and suddenly she’s won a Grand Slam.
“Wimbledon will be a different scenario. When she stopped it was because she didn’t like that spotlight on her and the pressure and didn’t like all that attention.
“But she’s matured and grown massively in that department since she returned to play. If you are going to win a Slam you must be better at that.
“I’m sure she’s doing all she can to be prepared for the extra stuff that will be happening and she will work her way through it, she’s a smart girl and knows what she needs to do to be able to perform.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge