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The Barty factor driving generation next

3 minute read

Wimbledon debutant Jaimee Fourlis believes the best approach to trying to fill Ash Barty's impossible shoes is to embrace the pressure.

ASHLEIGH BARTY.
ASHLEIGH BARTY. Picture: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Ash Barty is not even at the All England Club but she's still everywhere as Australia's generation next strive to fill the impossible shoes of the retired Wimbledon champion.

Four Australian women qualified for the first time since 1980 yet not even the crowning feats in the fledgling careers of Zoe Hives, Maddison Inglis, Jaimee Fourlis and Astra Sharma can overshadow Barty's absence.

Giant photos of Barty's 2021 triumph still adorn the walls at Wimbledon as Hives, Inglis, Fourlis and Sharma are constantly reminded of their countrywoman's momentous win and quizzed on how they plan on hatching an acceptable encore.

Fourlis believes the best approach is to embrace the pressure and grow from Barty's legacy.

"Ash is an inspiration. Everyone looks up to her and I certainly do," Fourlis told AAP.

"What she's done for women's tennis and Australian tennis is huge. She's unbelievable. I aspire to be like her and hopefully one day I can be and I think we've got a great group of Aussie girls.

"Not just the four girls who are qualifying but the rest of the lot as well. We're all really close and I think in many years to come you're going to see much more of us."

Proud to bear the burden, Ajla Tomljanovic will carry the mantle of being the Australian No.1 in Barty's non-title defence.

Tomljanovic lost to Barty in last year's quarter-finals and says she's driven by the magical centre-court experience to deliver a sequel to her career-best grand slam run.

"It was incredible. I played 16 games on centre court. I wish it was a bit more but it was just so special to share the court with Ash and now that she's not playing anymore I'm glad I had that moment," Tomljanovic said.

"It just makes you hungrier and you want to repeat it and have more matches on that special court."

Tomljanovic, who opens against Swiss Jil Teichmann on Tuesday, said Australia's qualifiers and resurgent wildcard Daria Saville all must believe they can achieve something special over the Wimbledon fortnight.

"Once you're in the slams, there's 128 of us and every time there's upsets happening and you have people making runs that have never done it before," she said.

"I think a lot of girls think, 'Why not me? I just qualified and I have three matches under my belt'.

"Let me tell you, no-one likes to play a qualifier. They're tough because they have confidence and they want to beat you. It's exciting."

Fourlis, up against Belgian veteran Kirsten Flipkens in her opener, is making her Wimbledon debut and playing her first slam in more than four injury-riddled years.

Now finally fit and firing, the 22-year-old is refusing to place a limit on how far she can go.

"As long as I can keep my body healthy and my mind , I think anything is possible for me," Fourlis said.

"I've put in a lot of work the last couple of years. So just to be able to play injury-free, that's a real big positive."

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