Australian tennis legends Jelena Dokic and Pat Rafter have lavished praise on Ashleigh Barty ahead of the Australian Open final on Saturday, with Dokic calling the world No. 1 “inspirational”.
Speaking exclusively to Eurosport, Dokic, the former world No. 4, and Rafter, who twice won the men’s singles title at the US Open, both talked up Barty’s burgeoning legacy in her home country. Having swatted aside Madison Keys 6-1 6-3 in a businesslike semi-final, Barty is the first Australian to reach the women’s singles final in 42 years.
She will now face Danielle Collins in the tournament decider, with the American beating Iga Swiatek 6-4 6-1 in the other semi-final. While Collins has been impressive over the last couple of weeks, Barty will be firm favourite to win the title on home soil.
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“Ash Barty is definitely one of those inspirational women, not just because of what she has done on the court and how successful she has been, but off the court as well,” said Dokic.
“What she stands for, she is inspiring. She is a role model to so many kids who look up to her. She is so proud of her heritage as well.”
Rafter, meanwhile, pinpointed Barty’s 4-6 7-5 6-1 victory against Coco Gauff at the Adelaide International at the beginning of January as a crucial moment in her recent run of form. She went on to win the Australian Open warm-up tournament with further victories against Sofia Kenin, Swiatek and Elena Rybakina, setting herself up perfectly for the main event.
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“When we watched Ash Barty play in the past she would have a couple of moments where she might lose her composure a little bit, then she fights and then she gets back into it,” said Rafter.
“The first match of the year where she played Coco Gauff, she was in a good headspace and ever since then she has not missed a beat and I am hoping this can continue.”
Barty has credited her mindset coach, Ben Crowe, with helping her to stay in that headspace. Speaking in the Eurosport Cube following her triumph against Keys, she said: “He helped my team, he helped me to change the perception of how I viewed everything, really.
“I was able to grow as a person and really start enjoying my tennis a lot more. It’s taken me to that next level and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the work.
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“We’ve had to work really hard and I love it. I love trying to piece together all the pieces of the puzzle to try to make me a complete tennis player, and it’s been fantastic to have him as part of that team.”
Even with the weight of expectation on her shoulders, Barty has expressed her pride at being the home favourite in Melbourne. “I love this tournament, I love coming out here and playing in Australia,” she said on-court following her victory in the semi-final.
“As an Aussie, we’re exceptionally spoiled that we’re a Grand Slam nation, we get to play at home and we get to play in our back yard.
“I’m just happy that I get to play my best tennis here. I enjoy it, I’ve done well before and now, to have a chance to play for a title, it’s unreal.”
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