Barty pushes No.1 Kerber all the way
QUEENSLANDER Ash Barty gave women's tennis a long look at her natural talent to fully extend world No.1 Angelique Kerber before taking a three-set loss at the Brisbane International.
Barty's welcome and revived commitment to the sport was fully evident in a 6-3 2-6 6-3 loss to Kerber.
It was a match between the world No.1 and the world No.271, but sometimes numbers have no relation to reality.
Barty, 20, was playing only her fifth tournament that goes towards a WTA ranking since returned to the sport from a summer playing cricket for the Brisbane Heat women's team.
"Ashleigh was playing unbelievably well and I am sure she will play very well for the rest of the season - she's a great player,” an impressed Kerber said.
Barty at times showed remarkable touch and game sense for a woman who had 16 months out of tennis up to February and the fitness to rally with confidence against the super-fit Kerber.
The former Wimbledon junior champion uncorked a stream of 41 winners to 32 by the Australian and US Open champion, with the trade-off being 38 unforced errors, 11 more than her opponent.
"We weren't wiped off the floor by the world No.1,” said Barty, who intends to play qualifying at the Hobart International on Friday before taking up her Australian Open wildcard.
"I tried to be more aggressive and take some risks. We got it to a one-set shootout with the best player in the world, but in the third set couldn't keep the consistency together.”
Barty, a wildcard, is No.231 in live rankings and will choose her schedule with care in the next few months.
The buoyant air surrounding the Ipswich right-hander this week has been a great fillip to her Australian tennis admirers after she left the tour in 2014, homesick and unable to apply herself mentally to touring life.
Asked if she had any advice for 16-year-old Destanee Aiava as she contends with the Australian Open spotlight after her first win in a WTA Tour match, Barty demurred that she might not "be the best person to ask”.
"From what I've learnt, it's take it slow,” she said.
"I don't know Destanee as well as some of the older girls, but she had a phenomenal week (winning through the qualifying rounds) and I am sure she has good people around her.”
Barty, dogged by injuries in her comeback year to tennis, moved well and chose her strokes decisively like the instinctive player she is.
An uncertain Kerber, playing her first match of the year after a first-round bye, made 14 unforced errors in the second set to Barty's seven.
Barty saved two break points to avoid going behind 1-5 in the third set, but the top seed was steadier in the clutch games.
Kerber's quarter-final on Thursday night is a against Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, the sixth seed, who beat Kerber and also Serena Williams when both women were ranked No.1.