Ashleigh Barty faces the biggest challenge of her fledgling professional tennis career on Monday night, as she takes to Rod Laver Arena for a clash with one of the greatest players of all time.
Barty will face the world number one Serena Williams on night one of the Australian Open, and is listed as a thirty-to-one shot of registering one of the biggest upsets of the modern era.
Williams has won as many Grand Slams as Barty has had birthdays – 17 – but Barty isn’t overwhelmed.
Speaking with a refreshing youthfulness to the media late today, Barty is treating the occasion as an opportunity, rather than a date with disaster.
“Not every week do you get to go out and play against one of the greatest champions of all time, and I’m really excited for that challenge,” she says.
“I hope (the atmosphere) is unreal. I got a bit of a taste of that in Brisbane a few weeks ago, but this is what we all train for in the preseason.”
Barty won the junior championships at Wimbledon in 2011, and 18 months later scored the biggest victory of her career, thrashing the former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone at the Hopman Cup in less than an hour.
She is still ranked 153 but there is no doubt her stock is rising – already comparisons are being made to another former teenage sensation, Martina Hingis.
“That comment’s been thrown around a lot in the last few years, but I don’t really want to be compared to anybody,” she says. “I just want to be the best I can and create my own style of game. When someone says that (the comparison) to me I just sort of smile and go ‘yeah, ok’ but I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
Of Indigenous heritage, Barty is immensely proud of her bloodlines – but she says she’ll try not to think about that when she steps out on Monday night as the nation watches on.
“I don’t think it’s any different to any other athlete, especially an Australian, going out there,” Barty says. “It’s obviously part of my heritage and something I’m very proud of, but it’s not something that I try to think too much about before I go out to play.”