Tennis

Australia piles praise on top-ranked Ashleigh Barty

French Open winner joins Goolagong as the country's second woman to reach world No. 1

Australia hailed "humble and inspirational" Ashleigh Barty as the new queen of tennis yesterday, after she joined Evonne Goolagong as the country's second woman to reach world No. 1.

The French Open champion claimed the top spot by beating Julia Goerges to win the Birmingham Classic on Sunday, capping a remarkable rise by the 23-year-old who once quit tennis to play cricket.

Along with Goolagong, who briefly held the top rank in 1976, she emulated John Newcombe, Patrick Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt in the pantheon of Australians to reach world No. 1.

Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley commended a "remarkable historical accomplishment".

"It's a really hard thing to do and to achieve, that is just fantastic," he told the Channel Nine TV network.

"I know her, she's humble about it. She just wants to get back on the tennis court and have a good hit."

The WTA began producing computerised rankings on Nov 3, 1975 and Goolagong scaled the peak of the world rankings in 1976, although it came to light only 31 years later after the discovery of an error in the records.

Goolagong, who like Barty has an indigenous heritage, said her rise had been "almost unstoppable".

"Ash is a very worthy No. 1 and winning at the French Open will have given her even more confidence," she told reporters.

"I am so proud that another Aboriginal player sits on top of the rankings in women's tennis, particularly a young lady who conveys such happiness in all she does."

Sydney's Daily Telegraph crowned her the "new queen" of tennis, with her down-to-earth approach a refreshing change for Australian tennis fans more used to the histrionics of Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic.

"Watching her win a match is like watching those old-fashioned black-and-white newsreels where an Evonne Goolagong or a Rod Laver graciously accepted their win without huge fuss or fanfare. She makes Australians feel proud she is one of us. Long may she reign," it wrote.

National broadcaster ABC said her rise was "nothing but deserved", after being unranked in 2016 when she returned to the game from a stint playing cricket with Brisbane Heat.

Fox Sports Australia tweeted: "Put your hands together for your new queen."

Billie Jean King was among the tennis greats offering congratulations to Barty, who displaced Japan's Naomi Osaka to reach No. 1.

"With incredible versatility, perseverance and focus, Ash Barty is an inspiration to the next generation of young players in Australia. Well done!" she tweeted.

Barty, who began playing tennis as a child in the Queensland state capital Brisbane, has her eyes firmly on Wimbledon and told reporters her close-knit team would not be getting carried away with what has been achieved.

"We'll just be very boring, to be honest," she said when asked how they would celebrate.

"We've got a big couple of weeks coming up; make sure we're ready to go, but we'll certainly be having a beer or two."

Meanwhile, Barty has withdrawn from this week's Eastbourne tournament, after aggravated an arm injury.

"It's an injury I've had to manage since I was 16 years old," Barty said.

"It happens when I have a spike in load, it's just a bone- stress injury.

"It will be fine, but we will have to manage it carefully over the next three or four days, and that I'm ready to go next week." - AFP, REUTERS

Tennis