World No.1 Barty declares she’s not the one to beat in France

World No.1 Ashleigh Barty has been quick to downplay her chances for another Roland Garros title, despite enjoying a sizzling season on clay.

The 2019 champion has declared she’s not the one to beat when the red-dirt major starts at the end of the month.

Former champion Ashleigh Barty doesn’t think she’s the one to beat at Roland Garros.Credit:Getty Images Europe

Just days after 25-year-old Barty’s winning streak on clay ended at the hands of dangerous Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka in the Madrid Open final, the Queenslander was quick to temper expectations ahead of her return to Paris.

However, despite missing most of the 2020 season due to the impact of COVID-19, Barty was adamant she was now a more accomplished player on the surface. Beating Sabalenka in the Stuttgart Open final last month and then reaching the final in Madrid – which followed wins over Petra Kvitova and last year’s Paris champion Iga Swiatek – has validated her clay credentials.

“I’m like to think that after a couple of years’ experience playing on it – more matches, playing on different clay, different conditions – I’d love to say that I’ve learned more, and been able to hone my craft a little bit more on clay,” Barty said ahead of the Italian Open.

“But in my eyes I certainly don’t go into Paris as the favourite, not by any means. I think there are some exceptional clay-courters [at the moment], some of the best we’ve ever seen probably across our sport that are playing at the moment.

“I go into it [the Roland Garros draw] with a really clean slate, fresh eyes, and just try and do the best that I can – whether that’s a first round, a quarter, a final, whatever it is – it’s about kind of going out there and just doing the best that I can for that match, and if the results come, they come, and if they don’t then I won’t lose any sleep over it.”

Barty reiterated that despite her drastic lack of match play last year, she was able to take even more steps forward in her career.

“Even though I didn’t play a full schedule in 2020, we had a lot of learnings from that year,” she said.

“To be able to bring them into this year and to work my way through some tricky matches and get plenty of opportunity to learn.

“I’ve played a lot of matches on clay this year already. I don’t know how many I would have played in 2019 but we’re probably up there with a similar amount already. And I think it’s exciting that we’ve still got two tournaments left to be able to continue to learn more [and] hopefully go deep in a couple of rounds.”

Australia’s Ashleigh Barty.Credit:AP

Regardless of how deep Barty progresses in Rome this week – her opponent in the round of 32 will be Italy’s Martina Trevisan or Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova – Australia’s leading player won’t have any tournament play next week before heading to Paris.

“We’ll just train, we’re not sure where yet. We’re still working through that,” she said.

“The last 24 hours we’ve been trying to work out where we’re going to go, still trying to refine those details.

“We’ll have a week somewhere and then we’ll go to Paris for qualies week onwards. I just didn’t want to be in Paris too early, and spend too much time there.”

Barty is not playing doubles with American Jennifer Brady in Rome but they will pair up again for the French major.

In other results, Australia’s highest-ranked man, Alex de Minaur, fell at the first hurdle in Rome, losing to local wildcard Gianluca Mager 6-4, 6-3.

World No. 42 John Millman is the only other Australian in the draw, which features world No.1 Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Madrid Open champion Alexander Zverev.

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