Eager Barty says unfazed by local expectation

Melbourne (AFP) –


World No.1 Ashleigh Barty on Sunday tempered rising expectations of breaking her country's 43-year Australian Open drought, preferring to simply enjoy her long-awaited comeback.

The Australian last week played her first match in 11 months after opting to remain home in relatively Covid-19 free Queensland state during the pandemic and even decided against defending her French Open crown.

Having not left the country, Barty was not required to undergo a two-week quarantine that was mandatory for players arriving from overseas, leading No.9 Petra Kvitova to suggest she was at an "advantage" ahead of the year's first Grand Slam.

Barty, however, did not believe her title chances had increased.

"It is what it is. I think you have to abide by the rules that have been put in by the government," she said.

"I think in a week's time ... everyone will be ready to go regardless of their preparation.

"I certainly don't feel like I'm more of a favourite than anyone else."

Barty reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park for the first time last year on the back of rabid fans desperate for a local champion to be anointed.

The 24-year-old said she wasn't fazed by the return of those expectations.

"I feel excited as I've ever been, as eager as I've ever been to get out here and play," she said.

"Drawing on the memories from last Australian summer, they're great memories.

"This is a time of year that I love. I'm so grateful that we have the opportunity to do it all again."

During her break from the circuit, Barty enjoyed plenty of family time and particularly relished watching her beloved Australian rules football team Richmond win the premiership in Brisbane.

But it wasn't all rosy: she was unable to see her coach Craig Tyzzer for six months due to closed state borders.

"For us, that was an adjustment, of course," she said.

"It's really nice to be back now. I feel like we're here and well prepared."

In her return to competitive action, Barty showed little sign of rust in a tight loss to world No.2 Simona Halep in an Adelaide exhibition last Friday.

Her preparation continues at the Yarra Valley Classic ahead of the Australian Open starting on February 8.

She had a first round bye in the singles but combined with Jennifer Brady of the United States on Sunday to win her doubles opener.