June 21, 2019 / 3:48 AM / 6 months ago

Osaka's Birmingham exit gives Barty shot at number one

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - WTA Premier - Nature Valley Classic - Edgbaston Priory Club, Edgbaston, Birmingham, Britain - June 19, 2019 Australia's Ashleigh Barty in action during her first round match against Croatia's Donna Vekic Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

(Reuters) - French Open champion Ashleigh Barty could become the first Australian woman to top the tennis rankings in more than 40 years if she wins the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham following Naomi Osaka’s second round exit on Thursday.

Osaka, who became world number one after winning the Australian Open, needed to reach the Birmingham final to guarantee she would stay ahead of Barty in the rankings but lost 6-2 6-3 to Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva.

Barty made short work of Jennifer Brady, beating the American 6-3 6-1 on Thursday to book her place in the quarter-finals and will become world number one if she goes on to win the tournament.

“The stars have aligned a little bit for me and I think when you get those opportunities you have to do your best to take them with both hands,” the 23-year-old told reporters.

“That’s what we have been able to do over the last month in particular but I feel like I’m comfortable in my own skin.

“I feel like I know exactly how I want to play in most matches, and it’s just about going out there trying to execute as best I can.”

Evonne Goolagong Cawley was the last Australian woman to top the world rankings in 1976 and if Barty wants to emulate her idol, she will first have to get past five-times Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in Friday’s quarter-final.

Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Jennings

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