Australia piles praise on top ranked Barty

Ashleigh Barty claimed the top spot by beating Julia Goerges to win the Birmingham WTA title, capping a remarkable rise by the 23-year-old who once quit tennis to play cricket. (AFP pic)

SYDNEY: Australia hailed “humble and inspirational” Ashleigh Barty as the new queen of tennis Monday after she joined Evonne Goolagong Cawley as the country’s second woman to reach world No 1.

The French Open champion claimed the top spot by beating Julia Goerges to win the Birmingham WTA title on Sunday, capping a remarkable rise by the 23-year-old who once quit tennis to play cricket.

Along with Goolagong Cawley, who briefly held the top rank in 1976, she emulated John Newcombe, Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt in the pantheon of Australians to reach world No 1.

Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley commended a “remarkable historical accomplishment”.

“It’s a really hard thing to do and to achieve, that is just fantastic,” he told the Channel Nine TV network. “I know her, she’s humble about it. She just wants to get back on the tennis court and have a good hit.”

Goolagong Cawley, who like Barty has an indigenous heritage, said her rise had been “almost unstoppable”.

“Ash is a very worthy number one and winning at the French will have given her even more confidence,” she told reporters.

“I am so proud that another Aboriginal player sits on top of the rankings in women’s tennis, particularly a young lady who conveys such happiness in all she does.”

‘Put your hands together’

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph crowned her the “new queen” of tennis, with her down-to-earth approach a refreshing change for Australian tennis fans more used to the histrionics of Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic.

“Watching her win a match is like watching those old-fashioned black and white news reels where an Evonne Goolagong or a Rod Laver graciously accepted their win without huge fuss or fanfare,” it wrote.

“She makes Australians feel proud she is one of us. Long may she reign.”

National broadcaster ABC said her rise was “nothing but deserved” after being unranked in 2016 when she returned to the game from a stint playing cricket with Brisbane Heat, while Fox Sports Australia tweeted: “Put your hands together for your new queen.”

Billie Jean King was among the tennis greats offering congratulations to Barty, who displaced Japan’s Naomi Osaka to reach No 1.

“With incredible versatility, perseverance, and focus, Ash Barty is an inspiration to the next generation of young players in Australia. Well done!” she tweeted.

Barty, who began playing tennis as a child in the Queensland state capital Brisbane, has her eyes firmly on Wimbledon and told reporters her close-knit team would not be getting carried away with what had been achieved.

“We’ll just be very boring, to be honest,” she said when asked how they would celebrate. “We’ve got a big couple of weeks coming up; make sure we’re ready to go, but we’ll certainly be having a beer or two.”

Tennis Queensland chief Mark Bloomfield said children “have a role model now”.

“They have seen one of their own start as a five-year-old, learn here in Brisbane, go right through the ranks and come out as world number one proving that they can all do it,” he told reporters.