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Barty "expects herself to win the AO one day", says Smith

  • Matt Trollope

Ash Barty ticks most boxes to be considered the “on paper” favourite at Australian Open 2022.

This is the view of former WTA pro and now tennis broadcaster Sam Smith, who believes Barty continues to improve her game, provides match-up problems for nearly all other top players, and expertly manages the pressures of competing at her home major.

Barty will enter the year’s first Grand Slam tournament as the world No.1 and reigning Wimbledon champion with a 17-8 lifetime record at Melbourne Park, having reached at least the quarterfinal stage the past three years.

While it is incredibly tough to select clear favourites for major titles given the current depth and strength of women's tennis, Smith says Barty is perhaps best positioned to capture a singles title not won by a home-grown player in 44 years.

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“She knows how much ability she has. It won't be a surprise for her if she wins,” Smith told

“I don't think she was surprised she won Wimbledon. All the great players know how good they are, and that's not an arrogance. They just know. They just keep doing the right things and they know it will come. 

“She expects herself to win one day in Australia. I just think in her head, she knows it's there for her.”

Barty ended her 2021 season after a third-round loss at the US Open, and did not hit a competitive ball for exactly four months before reappearing on court in the second round of the Adelaide International against Coco Gauff.

Although she showed evidence of rust in that encounter, once she found the range on her forehand when 6-4 4-2 down, she overwhelmed the talented teenager 4-6 7-5 6-1. 

She then outplayed Sofia Kenin, avenging her AO 2020 semifinal loss to the American with a straight-sets win featuring a career-high 17 aces.

Smith is not concerned about Barty’s lack of recent court time compared with her rivals, many of whom competed deep into November at the season-ending WTA Finals. 

On the flip side, they may not be feeling as fresh.

"She has such great timing and feel. And I think more importantly, she doesn't stress about putting her racquets down,” Smith observed.

“A lot of players really worry about: ‘Oh, I haven't competed for x amount of weeks or months.’ Mentally I don't think (Barty) has any problem with that. She doesn't seem to. She just completely trusts her ability.

“She didn't play for most of 2020, and she was right on her game when she returned.”

Barty was the standout player on tour last year, winning five titles across hard, clay and grass courts, both indoors and out. These included her second major singles crown at Wimbledon and two 1000-level trophies in Miami and Cincinnati. 

She held the top ranking for the entire season, helped by a win-loss record of 42-8 – most notably going 14-1 against the top 20 and a sparkling 7-1 against top-10 opposition. 

Her 2021 victims included fellow major champions Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, Bianca Andreescu, Iga Swiatek and Barbora Krejcikova, plus Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka and Elina Svitolina.

Ash Barty celebrates after winning the Wimbledon women's singles title
Ash Barty celebrates after beating Karolina Pliskova in the Wimbledon final of 2021. (Getty Images)

Smith thinks it takes a special kind of player to compete successfully with Barty when the Australian is peaking.

“Because she has one of the best serves in the game now, you have to be serving extremely well (yourself),” Smith said. 

“Players don't want to play to her backhand, because they hate the slice, and then they're terrified of the forehand as well because it's this enormous spinning creature that is very hard to read and track. 

“I think players who hit very hard and direct through the court… are the kinds of players who are more difficult (for Barty to face). And who can actually push her back behind the baseline and trap her in that backhand corner."

Smith identifies Naomi Osaka, Muguruza and Sabalenka as players who meet these criteria when playing their best. 

But she believes Barty continues to improve herself – another four months off will have provided time to further work on all aspects her game – which will make her an even more dangerous prospect. 

Aryna Sabalenka and Ash Barty
In 15 matches against top-20 players in 2021, Ash Barty lost only one; to Aryna Sabalenka (R) in the WTA Madrid final (pictured). [Getty Images]

“(Because of all her time off), in tennis terms she's about 21, 22. She's not a 25-year-old in tennis years at all. Her rate of improvement in the next two, three years is going to be enormous,” Smith said.

“Her double-handed backhand moved on hugely last year after she didn't play and (instead) practised (in 2020) and I expect it to have done the same again. 

“I think we saw last year just how big her second serve is getting. It's so aggressive. If you took a split-screen of her serve three or four years ago to what it looked like in 2021, it's got way more rhythm. It's technically so improved. 

“As is the double-hander. And the single-hander's better as well.”

As the world No.1 and a superstar in her homeland, Barty contends with an enormously bright spotlight and high expectations at the Australian Open.

In 2022, not only will she be attempting to become the first local champion since Chris O’Neill in 1978, an Australian Open title would put her three-quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam.

Smith admires Barty’s ability to manage such pressure, and believes a victory for the 25-year-old would be richly deserved. 

"She doesn't deny the external pressure, and she seems to manage the internal pressure,” Smith said.

"Ultimately, she's really happy at home. And she also has enormous respect for everyone else in the draw; she knows it’s full of terrific tennis players, and that she really does take it one ball at a time.

“You only have to look back at the last dozen Slams and see that anyone can beat anyone. And she knows that; I think that probably helps reduce pressure, in a way.

"It would be pandemonium (if she won). And it will be wonderful for her, it will be great for the game in Australia.”