Jelena Dokic has warned that Ashleigh Barty will now confront opponents who have “nothing to lose” as the world No.1 strives to handle the pressure of trying to end Australia’s long drought of producing a home-grown winner at the Australian Open.
But Dokic, who famously eliminated Martina Hingis from Wimbledon as a teenage qualifier, said there was no-one in women’s tennis better equipped than Barty to manage the demands of being the world’s best player.
“Everyone wants to beat her. She’s going to have little bit more of a target on her back now that she’s world No.1,” said Dokic.
“A lot of players are going to go into matches and they’re going to swing freely because they have nothing to lose.
“That comes with the territory. That comes with being the top player in the world. I think if anyone can handle the pressure, if anyone can handle the expectation, it’s her.”
Barty’s next test in Melbourne comes in the second round against Slovenia’s Polona Hercog and comes only days after the Queenslander won her first title on home soil when she claimed the Adelaide International with victory over Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska.
The 23-year-old showed her mettle on Monday night when she bounced back from losing the opening set to trounce Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.
“The first set was tough but to win the second and third sets so comfortably was incredible,” said Dokic, commentating on the Australian Open for Channel Nine.
“As soon as she got that break in the second set she never really looked back.
“All in all it was a pretty good performance to start the tournament off with.”
Dokic’s optimism has been shared by three-time major winner and former Australian Open champion Lindsay Davenport who predicts that Australia’s No.1 player will win the title at Melbourne Park – but not necessarily this year.
“It’s not easy playing a home slam, home country, and being the favourite,” said Davenport.
“Again though (through) all of her answers, her demeanour, her personality, she doesn’t seem burdened by the pressure and the responsibility she may or may not feel towards her fans.
“It might not be this year but sometime in her future, I think she’s going to play her best tennis here for sure.”
Dokic said the pressure on Barty would be coming “for all sorts of reasons from all sides”.
“Obviously it would be great to have an Australian win here," Dokic said.
“I think she’s handling it really well. I’ve always thought she’s handled pressure and everything that she’s done since winning (at) Roland Garros and becoming world No.1 extremely well.”
A lot of players are going to go into matches and they’re going to swing freely because they have nothing to lose. That comes with the territory.
The last Australian woman to win the major Down Under was Chris O’Neill in 1978 while Mark Edmondson was the last home-grown product to win the men’s crown two years earlier.
After her first-round victory, Barty said her and her close-knit team were handling the “chaos” of the early days of a major by “going along for the ride”.
“Slams always feel like there's a lot of chaos going (on) because there's so many people,” Barty said.
“It's busy with singles and doubles players, mixed players, families, coaches, everyone underneath. It's just chaos.
“When you're able to separate that from when you step on the court is when you can do a little bit better, play a little bit better, feel a little bit more comfortable.
“I feel like we've been able to do that better and better with each slam that I've played. It's an experience thing. You have to learn how to deal with it, but it's getting better.”
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