Barty ready to embrace Australian Open pressure
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Barty ready to embrace Australian Open pressure

Ashleigh Barty is ready to embrace being Australia's leading light at her home grand slam as she prepares to enter the tournament as the hosts' top-ranked player.

Barty will begin the locals' prime-time assault on the Australian Open on Monday night, when she takes on Thailand's Luksika Kumkhum under lights on Margaret Court Arena.

Embracing the pressure: Ash Barty.

Embracing the pressure: Ash Barty.Credit:AAP

Ranked No.15 in the world, Barty enters the tournament as Australia's highest female seed since Sam Stosur in 2013 and as equal-fourth favourite with the bookies.

Reigning Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki is on the growing list of admirers of the rising Australian star.

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Wozniacki also begins her Australian Open campaign on Monday, on Rod Laver Arena. If both progress as they hope, they would meet in quarter final.

The pair have met only three times, but the tennis world is small and intelligence travels quickly. "Ash has been playing really well for the last couple of years already," Wozniacki said on Sunday.

"She has a great game. Great hands. She's definitely a really good player."

But after a killer 2018 year, which included two WTA title and a fourth-round appearance at the US Open, the 22-year-old Barty said the outside noise wouldn't have any adverse impact on her in Melbourne.

"I think the only expectation is that I put on myself, to do everything right and to put myself in a position to perform as best that I can," Barty said.

"The support we get in Australia is phenomenal. All Australians, you ask any one of them, it's spine-tingling at times.

"You know, I'm excited to get out there and try and play my best tennis for myself, my team and the Australian public, but there is certainly no extra pressure from them.

"I think, if anything, it's embracing the support that you do get."

Barty also insisted she'd enter this year's tournament better placed and as a better player than the one who was knocked out last year in the third round.

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Beaten in the Sydney International final for the second year in a row, losing on Saturday night in a third-set tiebreaker to world No.8 Petra Kvitova, Barty has still had a more distinguished run this summer.

She knocked over world No.1 Simona Halep in straight sets in Sydney, and also toppled No.9 Kiki Bertens and No.12 Elise Mertens on her way to the final.

The Queenslander also has more tennis under her belt than last year, winning two of three matches at the Hopman Cup, as opposed to being knocked out last summer in the opening round of the Brisbane International.

"I'm a different player than I was 12 months ago. I feel like I'm a much better player. I'm a more complete player," Barty said.

"You know, certainly with a week like this, I have had probably one of the best weeks of my career. I feel like I'm playing great tennis.

"I'm so excited to be back at the Australian Open. It's the best time, well, the best way for us to start the year as Australians."

AAP with The Age

Greg Baum is chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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