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No extra pressure

I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m coming into the first Grand Slam of the year with a smile on my face.

Agence France-Presse

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ASHLEIGH Barty feels no pressure playing in front of hometown crowd. AFP

MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — Ashleigh Barty is relishing the pressure at her home Australian Open — but joked on Sunday that she is sick of seeing pictures of herself everywhere.

The world number one is bidding to become Australia’s first women’s singles champion in Melbourne since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

Expectations of the 23-year-old are huge and she has become the face of the year’s first Grand Slam, her picture heavily featured on billboards around the city and in local newspapers.

“My face is everywhere a little bit, isn’t it? I’m a bit sick of it, to be honest,” the down-to-earth Barty said with a smile on the eve of the tournament.

“(But) there’s no extra pressure, I don’t read the papers, I don’t kind of look into any more than I need to.

“I’m here with my team trying to do the best that we can.”

“It’s amazing to have so much support and so much love from the Australian public. I’ve really felt that in an exceptional way over the last 12 months. It’s been incredible.”

Barty begins her Australian Open title assault on Monday against 120th-ranked Lesia Tsurenko — the Ukrainian beat her in their previous meeting, in Brisbane in 2018.

Barty has since surged to the top of women’s tennis, winning her maiden Grand Slam last year at Roland Garros and carrying Australia’s tennis hopes.

Her Australian Open preparations got off to a patchy start when she suffered a surprise defeat to American qualifier Jennifer Brady in Brisbane at the start of the year.

But on Saturday she triumphed against another Ukrainian, Dayana Yastremska, to win the Adelaide International — her landmark first title on home soil.

“Obviously it’s the perfect preparation,” Barty said. “But regardless of whether I won the title or not last week (Saturday), I feel like I’m well prepared.

“I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m coming into the first Grand Slam of the year with a smile on my face.

“That’s all I can ask of myself.”

Barty, who hopes to feed off the “electric” Melbourne crowd, is determined to enjoy herself and cannot wait to step out onto the imposing Rod Laver Arena on Monday evening.

“You don’t get to play an Australian Open every single week, you don’t get to play a Grand Slam every single week,” she said.

“I won’t be out here forever playing these Grand Slams every few months of the year. I’m looking forward to getting out there.”

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