Australian Open favourite Serena Williams says she has seen enough of first-round opponent Ashleigh Barty to know the local teenager is extremely talented.
Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty has made a big impression on Serena Williams even before she meets the world No.1 in the Australian Open first round.
Williams is the hot favourite to take the title for a sixth time and claim her 18th major overall, which would bring her level with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, behind only Steffi Graf (22) in the professional era.
It makes for a daunting task for 17-year-old Barty, who is just beginning her first full year on the WTA tour and hasn’t played since injuring an adductor muscle in Brisbane in late December.
It will be Barty’s first meeting with Williams.
But the American great saw enough of the one match Barty played in the Brisbane International, when she upset world No.32 Daniela Hantuchova, to approach her with respect.
“She’s extremely talented,” Williams, who won the Brisbane title, said at Melbourne Park on Saturday.
“She moves well; she plays well; she serves well; she has good returns.
“I saw her play a little bit at Brisbane.
“I was actually super impressed with her game. I thought she was a really, really great player.”
Williams said Barty’s vastly lesser experience level wouldn’t change the way she approached the match.
Nor would the fact that Williams is unlikely to receive the crowd support she normally enjoys in Melbourne.
“Obviously they’ll want Ashleigh to win, her to do well. Under any other circumstances, I’d probably be rooting for her as well. I’ll just have to be ready for that,” Williams said.
After missing the 2011 Australian Open through injury, the 32-year-old has been troubled by ankle injuries during the past two Opens, both won by Victoria Azarenka.
But this year, Williams said she will enter the tournament in excellent physical condition.
And she has her eye on joining Navratilova and Evert on 18 majors.
“It would mean a lot to be on the same level as such great players as Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova,” she said.
“I still have a lot of work to do. I obviously want to be able to reach that level, but I’m not there yet. Hopefully I’ll get there.”