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Day 4 Preview: World No.1 Barty launches singles campaign

8 January 2020, by Dan Imhoff

Ashleigh Barty already has a taste of how much her profile has soared at home since sharing in the Grand Slam spoils last season and being crowned the world’s top player.

Between practice sessions and two doubles matches at the Queensland Tennis Centre crowds have already thronged to the intimate outside courts.

But that was only an entrée to the reception the 23-year-old will receive when she steps on to Pat Rafter Arena in the opening match of the Brisbane International on Thursday.

Barty faces American qualifier Jennifer Brady for a quarter-final berth, a player she holds a 2-0 head-to-head record against.

“It’s incredible to be home,” Barty said. “I felt like my off-season and my pre-season went very quickly. We were up here training.

“So this is where I train every single day, and I think it’s really nice to kind of shift back into tournament mode.”

Barty’s ovation on her home arena in 2020 will be amplified further having pledging to donate her entire singles and doubles prize money from this year’s event to Australia’s bushfire relief efforts.

“We have come to the decision that any of my prize money here in Brisbane will be donated to the Red Cross to go towards the families and homes that have been affected,” Barty said.

“And now I’ve been able to give a little bit to the wildlife [$30,000 to the RSPCA] and to the people as well and it’s been really, really special.”

The Queenslander beat Brady in the round of 16 at Birmingham last season en route to the title and with it, the No.1 ranking.

But the 24-year-old Brady brings form, having won through qualifying without the loss of a set before edging past five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova 3-6 6-1 7-6(3) in the first round.

“Ash is a great player, great person, on and off the court,” Brady said.

“But, yeah, she has chopped me up a few times, so hopefully we can change that.

“She’s just a great player, sees the court so well, knows the ins and outs of everyone’s game … I’m just going to go out there, compete my hardest and just leave it all out there.”

No.2 seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova will also begin her singles campaign on Thursday when she squares off against Barty’s Fed Cup teammate Ajla Tomljanovic at Pat Rafter Arena.

The big-serving Czech – who agreed to donate $200 for every ace during her Australian summer to bushfire relief – has beaten the world No.39 in four of their five meetings, including a three-set quarter-final win in Brisbane last year.

Tomljanovic beat Australian compatriot Priscilla Hon in the first round.

Pliskova finished the year ranked behind only Barty under coach Conchita Martinez.

But in in the off-season she announced she would start working instead with Dani Vallverdu and former WTA player Olga Savchuk.

“Of course, the year was great but I felt I played some good tournaments, so many good matches, and I finished actually like so close to the top,” she said.

“I felt that there’s no way [Conchita] can maybe help me more, so that’s why I changed.”

Defending Australian Open champion and No.3 seed Naomi Osaka plays her second match of Brisbane International 2020 on Thursday night when she takes on dangerous American Sofia Kenin.

Osaka ground out a tricky three-set encounter with Greek world No.23 Maria Sakkari in the first round and was looking forward to facing former junior rival Kenin for the fourth time on the WTA Tour.

Kenin leads the pair’s head-to-head ledger 2-1.

“She’s a consistent player, she’s very smart, she hits a lot of drop shots, I think she changes based on who she plays, which is a really good thing to do, especially for like her being that young,” Osaka said.

Two-time Wimbledon champion and former Brisbane champion Petra Kvitova will face Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova for a quarter-final berth on Thursday, while sixth seed Kiki Bertens will carry a 2-1 record into her clash with Estonian Anett Kontaveit in the second night match at Pat Rafter Arena.