Wimbledon: Barty eyes All-England crown

Ash Barty became the first Aussie WTA No. 1 in more than four decades, and continues to chase history. (Photo: Roland Garros Instagram)

The standard quick turnaround from the clay court action of Roland Garros to the strawberries and cream atmosphere at Wimbledon is always an exciting time of year for tennis fans.

In 2019, though, the tournament holds extra significance in Australia with its second-youngest World No. 1 ever chasing a second straight Grand Slam title.

Ash Barty’s meteoric rise to the top saw her claim her maiden major at last month’s French Open, placing her second on the table behind Japan’s Naomi Osaka.

Triumph in Birmingham in between Slams, however, propelled her to the summit and sees her claim top seed honours at Wimbledon as well.

On the men’s side of proceedings, there was some controversy concerning the men’s seedings for the grasscourt Slam, which is notoriously the only major tournament that doesn’t follow world rankings in their determination.

World number two Rafael Nadal created discussion around this after a complaint following the draw, which seeded him third behind first and third-ranked Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Although, the adverse effect on the rest of the draw is minute and from a local standpoint, rising star Alex de Minaur enters as the sole seeded Australian male – the 20-year-old receives the 25th ranking while maligned star Nick Kyrgios misses the top cut.

Women

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Ash Barty has been the tennis talk of the world since achieving her breakthrough milestone with her first singles Grand Slam last month. The Ipswich-born dual-sport athlete, who turned 23 in April, is duly rewarded as top seed at the All-England Club for the ladies’ singles draw, and kicks off her campaign against Saisai Zheng of China, ranked 43rd and looking to conquer the red-hot Australian in order to reach her second round of 64 berth in five attempts at Wimbledon.

“She loves playing on the grass courts. It’s a tough first round match,” Barty said in her pre-Wimbledon press conference.

She humbly admitted, “I don’t know if I’m the favourite for Wimbledon.”

Looking to the rest of her potential path to glory, difficult clashes loom at every turn as two-time Grand Slam holder Svetlana Kuznetsova is likely to await in round two, while former World No. 1 Garbine Muguruza, defending champion Angelique Kerber and all-time great Serena Williams are possible opponents before the final four.

In Serena’s pre-tournament conference, she noted she actually had no idea Barty had assumed top spot on the WTA ranking but was nonetheless full of praise for the Australian.

“I don’t know anyone that has anything negative to say about her.

“She has the most beautiful game…her technique is, like, flawless.”

Williams herself looks to start her quest for a seventh Wimbledon crown against the unseeded Giulia Gatto-Monticone, searching for a fairytale win in just her second career Grand Slam appearance.

2nd-ranked Naomi Osaka will start her journey on the opposite side of the draw against Russia’s Yulia Putintseva, the fierce Simona Halep faces Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich and past winner Petra Kvitova takes on Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.

Making up the rest of the homegrown contingent, Astra Sharma, Sam Stosur and Daria Gavrilova are all faced with seeded opponents in the opening round in Sofia Kenin, Carla Suarez Navarro and Elena Svitolina respectively, while Alja Tomjlanovic plays Daria Kasatkina and Anastasia Rodionova faces Taylor Townsend.

Men

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The question at the forefront of discussion regarding the Australian men’s tennis division is the same as always at Slam time: which Nick Kyrgios will step out onto the court when play begins?

Will it be the at-times dazzling entertainer, capable of unfathomable shots and a past conqueror of Rafael Nadal at this tournament? Or does the petulant side that earned him the bad-boy reputation spoil his favour on the big stage once again?

Recent behaviour from the ‘Happy Gilmore’ of the ATP tour seems to prefer the latter, with specific attention focused on his racquet-throwing episode at a lead-up tournament as well as his harsh assertion regarding his experience on clay courts during French Open season.

But in slipping to 43rd on the ATP rankings, heading into Wimbledon unseeded and with a potential second-round fixture against that same legendary Spaniard looming, Kyrgios should have plenty of incentive to make this region of the draw his own, claim another big scalp and ideally take home a major prize in the process.

In an all-Australian clash with Jordan Thompson for his opening round clash and fellow enigma Bernard Tomic potentially lurking on the other side of Rafa, though, the early going will be anything but easy.

Alex de Minaur, meanwhile, flies the flag as the 25th seed and highest ranked Australian male, and is heavily favoured against Italian Marco Cecchinato, best known for a fairytale run at Roland Garros in 2018.

The 20-year-old is seeking to better his career-best third-round effort at Melbourne Park earlier this year, where he was eventually felled decisively by Rafael Nadal.

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Around the big names, top seed Novak Djokovic is at the top of the draw against German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber, a former quarter-finalist in this tournament. The most successful man in the history of The Championships won’t face another seeded competitor until at least the Round of 16 as Roger Federer receives a highly favourable draw, Nadal takes on Japanese qualifier Yuichi Sugita while Marcos Baghdatis kicks off his last professional singles tournament against lucky loser Brayden Schnur.

Representing Australia, Bernard Tomic faces a difficult task against the flamboyant Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, youngster Alexei Popyrin should be competitive against Spain’s Pablo Carenno Busta, John Millman contends with a Wimbledon debutant in the form of Bolivian Hugo Dellien while Matt Ebden may be in the most trouble against seeded Argentine Diego Schwartzman.