MELBOURNE, Australia –
WTA World No.15 Ashleigh Barty shrugged off a slow start to defeat Luksika Kumkhum, 6-2, 6-2 and make serene progress through to the second round of the Australian Open.
The Sydney International finalist was carrying a weight of expectation from the home fans going into the match but ultimately powered through in little under an hour.
Barty admits that there is pressure as the home country’s No.1 female, to go deep in the tournament and, hopefully, be the first winner of a singles title since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
“I think Australians in general love their sport. That's certainly no secret,” she said. “We've been very spoiled across all codes and forms of the game to have legends, those that have achieved unthinkable things, especially in tennis as well. We've had legends throughout all of tennis history in Australia.
“Australians are hungry for sport. They love it. They're addicted to it. I think at this time of the year it always floats around with tennis that they're looking for an Australian player, in particular, to go deep and have a really good run.”
The home favorite started the match timidly and found herself a break down in the opener but rallied impressively thereafter to dominate, winning six games in succession.
Barty came into the match in strong form but initially struggled to find her range against an opponent who defeated her in a 2016 Wimbledon qualifier.
Since that loss, though, the Australian has climbed more than 300 places in the WTA Ranking and won her only Tour level match against the Thai, and after a nervous opening couple of games made her quality count.
“It took a little while to get going, I had a couple slow games at the start,” she admitted. “Once I got moving and into the rhythm of things, obviously it's a little bit different conditions from here as it is to Sydney, but felt like I was comfortable.
“I served well, was able to get into return games really well, which is always a positive for me. When I can control the ball off the first shot after serve and return, especially with my forehand, that's when I'm in control most matches.”
From 0-2, Barty took hold of the game, firing a succession of aggressive groundstrokes that her opponent found impossible to match. By the end of the first set, the higher-ranked player had outhit her opponent in winners 8-1.
Kumkhum was also complicit in her own downfall, making ill-timed unforced errors, including a couple of double faults when faced with break points.
Indeed, Barty’s dominance continued into the second set as she broke to claim her seventh game in succession only for a hiccup to follow as a couple of loose strokes allowed the WTA World No.67 to hit back.
With the door left ajar, Kumkhum began to find her range and hit several sizzling winners, using clever angles and brute force, but when her level momentarily dipped, her opponent took advantage to move into the ascendancy 3-2 with a break to her credit.
Another double fault on break point arrived in the seventh game, leaving Barty to serve out for the match with the insurance of two breaks. This was completed by the in-form Aussie with the minimum of fuss, leaving her to contemplate a second-round match against Wang Yafan.
“There’s a long way to go,” she said when asked about her fine form and her prospects of winning the tournament. “I’ll think: 'Why not me?' on Wednesday first then we’ll see.
“I just want to enjoy it. I want to make sure I prepare well, do everything right off the court so I can play with freedom and hopefully win a few matches for myself, my team, and everyone in the stadium.”