Tennis

Ashleigh Barty unfazed by home pressure at Australian Open

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty insisted she felt "no extra pressure" ahead of the Australian Open, as she tuned up with a battling win over Garbine Muguruza to win the Yarra Valley Classic yesterday.

The Australian wore down the two-time Grand Slam champion 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 on Margaret Court Arena in 1 hr 47 min to claim her ninth WTA singles title.

It was a big confidence boost for the 24-year-old in her first tournament in 11 months, after struggling to rediscover her best form in earlier rounds.

Barty, hoping to break her country's 43-year singles title drought at the Australian Open, said she was unfazed by rising local expectation.

"There's no extra pressure for me, that's for sure," she said.

"It's the same whether it's a Grand Slam or a tour event. I love playing in Australia.

"I go into this Australian Open excited, well prepared and ready to play."

Barty received an eye-catching trophy, a wood carving of a wombat, which was designed by a local indigenous artist.

"It's a very touching tribute to my heritage and it's very cool to have some indigenous art," said Barty, whose father is aboriginal.

She lifted the intensity after Muguruza had dropped just 10 games in her four earlier matches, in echoes of the 2017 form that took her to world No. 1. But the Spaniard, 27, could not sustain her red-hot run.

"We're very grateful to have fans after almost a year without crowds," said the world No. 15 to a smattering of spectators as intermittent rain fell outside.

"I normally don't play the week before (a Slam), but I'm taking a lot of positives from this week."

Barty starts her Australian Open campaign tomorrow against world No. 77 Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, while last year's finalist Muguruza plays Russia's Margarita Gasparyan.

Serena Williams, who pulled out of the Yarra Valley Classic semi-final against Barty due to an injury, will resume her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam. The American, who turns 40 in September, faces Laura Siegemund today. - AFP

Tennis