MELBOURNE (Reuters) – As world number one at her home Grand Slam, Ash Barty felt awkward about the hype surrounding her even before the Australian Open had started.
Now, having reached her maiden semi-finals at Melbourne Park with victory over Petra Kvitova on Tuesday, the down-to-earth 23-year-old has almost nowhere to hide.
Australia’s hopes of ending a 42-year wait for a homegrown champion will follow Barty into her next clash against American 14th seed Sofia Kenin on Thursday.
As thrilling as the ride has been, Barty said she could do without all the fuss.
“No, I’d prefer to just be sitting at home just living my quiet little life,” the plainspoken Queenslander told reporters.
“I mean, no offence, but not having to chat to you guys every day would be pretty good. I feel like I have nothing to say. I’m talking in circles a little bit.
“It’s incredible. It’s a part of the journey that I hate it and I love it. It’s all the same. It’s all in good fun.”
Barty claimed her maiden Grand Slam title at last year’s French Open and became Australia’s first world number one since Evonne Goolagong in the 1970s.
The brilliant 2019 season saw her named “Young Australian of the Year” in the national day honours on Saturday.
She will need serious tunnel vision to avoid the spotlight over the coming days in Melbourne, where her face adorns billboards and her performances are front page news.
Her support team are unlikely to help her much in that regard and apparently delight in making her feel awkward.
“My team do a good job at taking the piss a little bit, sending me some of the photos,” she said.
“Look, you just have to have fun with it. That’s the only way.
“I don’t really have a lot of time actually. I’ve been on-site quite a bit, not really going for leisurely strolls around Melbourne.
“When I have an hour or two, it’s more just going back to the apartment and spending time with family. That’s about it.”
Barty was trounced by Kvitova 6-1 6-4 in last year’s quarter-finals, her first trip to the last eight of a Grand Slam, but she showed on Tuesday she has learned plenty over the last 12 months.
Given a “1,000-word” dossier on Kvitova from coach Craig Tyzzer, Barty did her homework and aced the test against the twice Wimbledon champion at Rod Laver Arena.
Under huge pressure, she saved 10 out of 12 break points to book her second Grand Slam semi-final, eight months after her first at Roland Garros.
She was largely an unknown quantity in Paris, even to herself.
In Melbourne, she knows what she is capable of.
“They’re completely different tournaments,” she said.
“I feel like I’m a different person. I’m growing as a person every single day, I’m growing as a tennis player.
“This is a new experience for me. I’m just going to try and take it in my stride, learn as much as I can and go from there.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
All copyrights for this article are reserved to The Star