MELBOURNE (Reuters) – It is the gambit Ash Barty’s opponents are finding too difficult to resist.
The Australian world number one has become a master at luring rivals into hitting shots too testing to make, says David Witt, a long-time hitting partner of Venus Williams and now coach of Jessica Pegula, who plays Barty in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
“I think Ash tries to bait you into kind of going for shots maybe that you shouldn’t go for,” Witt said. “I think a lot more people have unforced errors against her because she’s very smart at how she plays.”
Barty approaches tennis like a chess master studies a game. Every move is designed to set her up for the next play, particularly when it comes to her service games.
“It’s not always trying to hit it as hard as I can. Rarely am I redlining, hitting a serve as hard as I can,” she said.
“It’s more about the placement, thinking about what kind of return I’m going to get to try to set up the rest of the point.”
The 25-year-old wants to make her opponents uncomfortable, knowing that if she can unsettle their rhythm the errors will flow more frequently.
“That’s the chess game that we play,” she said.
“You go out there and have fun with it, see who can execute better on the day, and that’s about all there is to it.”
In her two most recent outings on Rod Laver Arena, Barty has been able to draw errors from Amanda Anisimova and Camila Giorgi on critical points to progress.
Barty, who is seeking to become the first local since Chris O’Neil in 1978 to win the Australian Open, had half the amount of unforced errors of Anisimova in their fourth-round match.
It was a similar scenario against Giorgi, with the Italian striking 24 unforced errors compared to the 13 of the reigning Wimbledon champion when trying to hit her off the court.
The gap was less pronounced in her opening two wins against Lesia Tsurenko and Lucia Bronzetti, but that was in part due to the Australian’s dominance in those matches.
Pegula, who was among those beaten by Barty at Roland Garros in her run to the championship in 2019, is aware of the challenge ahead of her on Rod Laver Arena.
“I feel like Ash is so tactical in everything she does. (She is) really a smart … perfect kind of tennis player in that way,” she said.
The 27-year-old was a quarter-finalist in Melbourne last year and could leave Australia this year as America’s top-ranked woman. But it will be a challenge.
“You’ve got to beat the best to be the best, so Ash is definitely the best right now,” Witt said. “She’s got a tough match.”
(Reporting by Courtney Walsh; Editing by Peter Rutherford)