Former British tennis player Annabel Croft says world number one Ashleigh Barty is playing the best tennis of her career right now.
The Australian will play in the Madrid Open final on Saturday and is on course for back-to-back titles on the surface, having won in Stuttgart last month.
In an exclusive interview with GiveMeSport Women, Croft spoke of Barty’s change in mindset of late –– highlighting her ability to play without consequences.
“If you can play without fear of what the consequences are, that's a whole different mindset. And you know she's [Barty] been able to do that.
“And she's such a deep thinker on the court, I mean when you watch what kind of tennis player she is, she's such a creative artist on the court and she disrupts the opponent's rhythm with many different layers to what she brings.
“She's got that slice backhand and she's got the most stunning cross-court forehand with a lot of pace and spin on it that kind of rays off the surface and travels away from opponents.”
Remarkably, the 25-year-old chose to miss the clay-court season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic but has now won 16 red clay matches in a row, dating back to 2019. Indeed, with a record as formidable as this, Croft stressed that Barty is almost impossible to beat at the moment.
“She hardly played any matches in 2020, compared to a lot of them that ended up playing whatever was left to scoop up on the tour, but here she is starting stronger than anybody. So it's extraordinary that she's been able to do that, but I think so much of that is about your mindset and where you're at.
“Clearly she's in great physical shape and it hasn't taken much to sort of turn the key and off she's run, and now she's looking quite unstoppable at the moment.”
Barty’s opponent in Madrid is fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka. The Belarussian player has won nine out of her last 10 clay-court matches herself and Croft admitted that she is a big fan of watching the 23-year-old.
“I love watching Sabalenka play because she's just so explosive and the shotmaking and the power and the ferocity of her shots are just jaw-dropping. But also, there's a smile on her face. She plays with a lot of freedom. She brings great joy to a tennis court and she makes you want to go out there and pick up a racket and hit balls.”
Ultimately, though, Croft believes Barty will have the edge over her opponent in Madrid. While Sabalenka has been in good form, she was beaten by the Australian in the Stuttgart Open Final recently.
“So I think this is a real challenge once again because clearly, her [Sabalenka] and Barty have matched up very closely in the past couple of meetings that they've had. They've both been three sets, but both times Barty’s come through.
“And I think the slice backhand of Barty has really caused quite a few problems to disrupt that rhythm and that power that Sabalenka brings.”
Having won nine WTA titles in her career so far, the world number seven is still searching for her first title on clay. Barty, believe it or not, is chasing just her third –– following the win in Stuttgart and at the 2019 French Open.
For Sabalenka to win on Saturday, she must do what no other player has managed in 16 attempts –– beat the best in the world. Is she capable of doing so? Of course. Is she likely to do so? Not with the way her opponent is playing currently.
The Final is scheduled for tomorrow at 17:30. You can watch WTA tournaments exclusively on Amazon Prime Video at no extra cost for existing Prime members.News Now - Sport News