By Ros Satar at the Nature Valley Classic, Birmingham
Ashleigh Barty  def. D Vekic 6-3 6-4
BIRMINGHAM, UK – All eyes were on the newest Grand Slam champion on the block as she started her season with a confident win.
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Ashleigh Barty  def. D Vekic 6-3 6-4
You had to feel for Donna Vekic who tearfully but graciously accepted defeat in a very difficult Nature Valley Open and then… drew the newest Grand Slam champion on the block Ashleigh Barty.
It was a confident performance by the Australian who might not have had much time to make the transition to the grass but could not wait to get going on the surface.
“I think [the transition] was probably as smooth as it could have gone. I felt really good with my feet on the grass. We haven’t had a hell of a lot of grass court time because of the weather but in a sense that made it even better because it was fresh, it was new. I could really just play by feel and try and work my way into the match.
“And there are still aspects that I want to clean up and do a little bit better but overall really happy with today. It was kind of the perfect match for me. I needed to be ready. Obviously, Donna knows her way around a grass court pretty well, so I needed to be ready and be sharp and it was pretty good today.”
Her skills with a tennis racquet and ball are obviously without question. Her skills with a cricket bat and ball were there for everyone to see during her brief sabbatical from the tennis tour – but is there any stick and ball sport that Barty cannot turn her hand to? Seems not, when she described how she spent the time between lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen trophy.
“We just had a couple of quiet days, played a bit of golf at The Belfry and then came here. Nothing’s really changed in a sense, everything’s been the same for me. It’s just been a little bit of down time and preparation building up to here.
“It’s been an amazing fortnight, an amazing month for me with the amount of support and love that I have received from all around the globe, but in a sense, it’s still been pretty normal as well.”
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Impact of sporting heroes for young indigenous Australians
Barty is extremely proud of her indigenous heritage – her father Robert is a Ngarigo Indigenous Australian through one of his grandmothers, and she identifies as indigenous, named in 2018 as Tennis Australia’s National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador in 2018.
So how much impact has her success, not just in Paris, but over the last couple of years, had back home, and how closely does she see what is being done?
“I always keep an eye on it for sure. The opportunities now that are out there for indigenous youth all around the nation in Australia is incredible. It’s definitely been a stepping stone and a difference for us, not just in the Northern Territory, not just up in North Queensland, but all across the country, there are more opportunities for indigenous youth to play tennis.
“And not just tennis, to get involved at sport at all level, all different sport, and that is a pretty beautiful thing. Now they see — and it is not just indigenous kids as well. But there is an extra focus for us with indigenous kids of letting them being able to see that there is a career path in sport. And they’ll have the support. They will have the structure. And it’s pretty amazing, if I can help in any small part, any small way, shape or form, it’s pretty incredible.”
She went on to describe how Australian Football is probably the most traditional path – think two teams with exceptionally tight sports gear, knocking seven bells out of each other for a completely gloriously bonkers sport!
In terms of who inspired her, when she was growing up, she beamed as she spoke about one of the most iconic indigenous Australian athletes.
“Obviously the one that comes to mind that’s outside of tennis was Cathy Freeman. What she did for Australia. She put indigenous sport back on the map just in general across the whole globe. I think that sparked the whole nation, didn’t it (smiling)? You ask any Australian what they felt with that performance, it was pretty incredible.
“But there are so many amazing athletes in all different sports with AFL, cricket. There are some girls in the Australian cricket side, Ash Gardner was in the Ashes squad. She is coming over here in a few days. It is pretty incredible now that you see these filtering of athletes going through all sports. It makes you pretty proud.”
Barty plays Jennifer Brady on Thursday.
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