World number one Ash Barty is favourite to win her first Wimbledon title next week but will need to overcome a lack of match practice on grass and a worrying string of injuries in the lead-up to the Grand Slam.
The Australian’s French Open was derailed by an acute hip problem suffered in training and which forced her to retire in the second round against Magda Linette.
The “completely new injury" to her left hip, as Barty termed it, followed a flare-up of a recurring muscle strain in her serving arm which forced her to retire from the quarter-finals of the Italian Open.
The injuries put a dampener on a brilliant run on clay and prevented Barty from warming up for Wimbledon on one of the grasscourt tournaments.
Barty’s management told Reuters the 25-year-old’s fitness was improving “day by day" and she was on track to return to competition at Wimbledon.
If her body stands up and she can string together confidence-building wins in the early rounds, Barty will be hard to beat on her favourite surface.
Boasting an all-court game replete with heavy groundstrokes, a deft backhand slice and exceptional net-play from a career-long love of doubles, the Australian is made for grass.
However, she has yet to go deep at Wimbledon, despite claiming titles on the surface at Birmingham (2019) and Nottingham (2018).
Her fourth round effort in 2019 as top seed was her best run at the All England Club but ended in disappointment at the hands of unseeded American Alison Riske, who snapped Barty’s 15-match winning streak in one of the tournament’s biggest upsets.
While having little fear of top 10 opponents, Barty has proved susceptible to plucky underdogs like Riske who have knocked her off stride with raw aggression.
Unheralded Czech Karolina Muchova proved her nemesis at the Australian Open quarter-finals in February, a year after an up-and-coming Sofia Kenin stunned the home favourite in straight sets in the semi-finals.
Barty will hope to become only the third Australian woman to win Wimbledon after Margaret Court (1963, 1965, 1970) and Evonne Goolagong (1971, 1980).
John Newcombe, who swept the 1971 Wimbledon singles with compatriot Goolagong 50 years ago, said Barty needed to avoid going into a defensive shell when under fire to boost her chances of success.
“Ash is the best volleyer in women’s tennis," the former world number one and seven-times Grand Slam champion told Australian media.
“That’s why when I’m watching on TV, I’m like, ‘Ash, get into the bloody net’.
“I find that if she hangs back behind the baseline and plays her defence game, it’s not nearly as good … So I just hope she plays aggressively and positively."