Ashleigh Barty says she has at least one advantage over first-round Australian Open opponent Dominika Cibulkova.
“Actually one of my mates said to me today, ‘You're taller than her',” quipped Barty, who, at 166cm, is five centimetres taller than the Slovakian.
“I'm hopefully still growing a bit more. Hopefully there's a few inches left in me.”
That’s where the favourable statistics perhaps end for Barty. Aged 16 and the world No.176, she’s seven years younger and 161 rankings below the vastly more experienced Cibulkova, a finalist at the Apia International Sydney last week.
And yet while victory against the 15th seed at Hisense Arena on Monday would at first seem like a tall order for Barty, it’s also not an unrealistic prospect.
Barty has been long regarded as one of Australia’s most exciting young talents, who is quickly developing in both skill and confidence.
“If I go out there and think I can win the match, which I think I can; if I play well and I think I can do that. I'll go out there and give it my best shot and see what happens,” the Queenslander said yesterday.
Fresh from a 6-3, 6-0 upset of 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Barty is confident in her ability to compete against Grand Slam contenders – a consequence, she says, of her overall development under the guidance of her coach, Jason Stoltenberg, since the same time last year.
“I think everything as a whole (has improved),” she said. “My whole game has developed to a new level. Jason has worked really well with me to work on that. I'm feeling good, can't wait to get out there.”
Inspiration is coming in other forms too, Barty thrilled to see Tomic claim his first ATP victory in Sydney on Saturday night.
“He’s been playing great all week in Sydney. I think that really transitioned well on from Hopman. He played really well there. I think the other boys, like Benny Mitchell and (James Duckworth) can really look at him, see what he's achieving,” Barty said. “It just comes down to hard work really.”
Reward for effort is something Barty understands, having worked hard to capitalise on her natural ability, which reaped the Wimbledon girls’ title in 2011, four ITF titles and main draw appearances in every Grand Slam tournament. Asked which of those experiences stood out the most, Barty pointed to the opportunity to compete for her country.
“I think I was very lucky at Hopman Cup to represent Australia. I think that's one of my most proudest moments,” she said.
“Even in the juniors when you're representing your country, it's something really special. To be able to do that the last couple weeks, the way I played out there, it was really fun. I haven't enjoyed tennis that much for a long time. It was just so good to get out there, play in front of the crowd.”
Barty is hoping for a similar experience at the Australian Open. While her own entourage will comprise about 15 family members and friends, she understands that it’s wider support that could help boost her exciting career.
“It really is good to have the crowd support. It adds such a buzz to the air. Gets your adrenaline pumping so much. Hopefully it's a pretty full stadium in Hisense tomorrow. Yeah, I can go out there and kind of use my crowd to my advantage a bit,” she said.