SYDNEY (Reuters) - Ash Barty has raised Australian hopes of a first Wimbledon singles title since 2002 by storming into the fourth round of the championships but the world number one has also managed to calmly dodge a rash of potential controversies in week one.
The French Open champion’s grounded personality meant she was always going to present a clear contrast to the main Australian men’s title hopefuls of recent years but there has been no shortage of compatriots ready to kick up a fuss on her behalf.
First there was the decision by broadcaster Channel Seven to stick with the first round match between Nick Kyrgios and Jordan Thompson rather than show Barty’s championship opener against China’s Zheng Saisai.
Blasted by Australia’s Twitterati as ‘sexist’, the decision was defended by the network on the grounds of the public interest in a thrilling all-Australian five-setter and Barty herself simply refused to bite.
“If people can watch my matches, great. If they can’t, they can’t,” she said.
Next up came the decision by the All England Club to put Barty’s second round contest against Alison van Uytvanck on Court Two and schedule locals Cameron Norrie and Johanna Konta on Centre Court.
Disregarding the blatant local bias often on display in scheduling at the Australian Open, the outraged were soon in full voice once again at the ‘disrespect’ shown to the top-ranked Queenslander.
Not so Barty.
“I’ll play whenever I’m scheduled,” she said. “There’s not a bad court here at Wimbledon. They’re all very beautiful. I certainly enjoyed playing on Court Two today.”
The third issue was a slow burner triggered by seven-times Wimbledon champion Serena Williams, who appeared surprised to be informed Barty was top of the world rankings in her pre-tournament news conference.
That was enough to prompt an outburst from retired former world number 53 Sam Groth, who in a newspaper column dubbed the American’s reaction an ‘absolute disgrace’.
Barty again poured oil on choppy waters.
“Serena hasn’t been at many of the tournaments lately so it’s not really something that I worry about,” she said.
Williams has never needed anyone to fight her battles, of course, and was happy to clarify her comments.
“I don’t even know what he’s talking about,” she said. “I’m happy she’s number one. I don’t know anyone that isn’t.
“She’s such a sweet person. I think she’s just the one person in the locker room that everyone roots for, including me.”
Barty’s off-court diplomacy was a stark contrast to her on-court brutality as she swept into the second week of the championships for the first time without coming close to dropping a set.
The 23-year-old finally had her day on Centre Court when she took apart Britain’s Harriet Dart on Saturday but will be back out on Court Two to face grasscourt specialist Alison Riske when the tournament resumes on Monday.
Williams looms as a dangerous potential quarter-final opponent but Barty appears to be having fun, slipping references to the movies enjoyed by her three-year-old niece into her press conference comments.
“Over and over she tells me you can go to ‘infinity and beyond’,” she said, quoting a character from Toy Story after earlier in the week citing the song ‘Hakuna Matata’ from Lion King.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Sudipto Ganguly