Ash Barty is pretty unflappable.
Ash Barty is pretty unflappable.

Barty faces brutal Brisbane homecoming

ASHLEIGH Barty made history in 2019 with an incredible record breaking year, ending Australia's grand slam drought and becoming the nation's first season-ending women's world No.1.

But the Aussie sensation will be the hunted as she aims to end Australia's 42-year drought at Melbourne Park.

The last Australian to win was Chris O'Neil in 1978 and Barty now has the weight of the nation on her shoulders.

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While she shared her preparations for the tournament in a post on social media saying "No place like home", her home tournament has handed her a brutal return to the country.

While she has a first-round bye, Barty is slated to take on five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, who is a wildcard to the tournament.

A win sets up a match with either dual Wimbledon champion and great rival Petra Kvitova or US Open victor Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals.

Three-time grand slam tournament winner Angelique Kerber is a semi-final chance while reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka could be her opponent in the final.

It would be the perfect finish for the tournament with the pair being pitted against each other as the future rivalry to define the next era of women's tennis.

Barty and Osaka have played each other before four times, including at the 2018 Australian Open.
Barty and Osaka have played each other before four times, including at the 2018 Australian Open.

Barty is 23 and Osaka 22 with the pair sitting no. 1 and no. 3 in the rankings with plenty of years ahead of both women.

Bizarrely, Osaka's side of the draw has no other major winners, but does feature defending champion and world No. 2 Karolina Pliskova.

Pliskova has also jumped on the bushfire donation bandwagon and will donate $200 for every ace she serves in Australia.

Osaka is laser focused on returning to the top of the women's rankings and will be gunning for Barty, who ended the 2019 season almost 2000 points ahead of Pliskova on the rankings.

"Last year I had to figure a lot of stuff out and a lot of people could see that and towards the end of the year is when things started clicking for me," she said. "I love Australia … so I'm excited to start here."

"She (Barty) has a lot of variety, her serve's really pin point and she has the best slice on tour."

That sounds about right for Aussie Ash.
That sounds about right for Aussie Ash.

Barty will also have plenty of pressure on her shoulders but double teammate and world no. 9 Kiki Bertens has said the Aussies rise to the top of the rankings is not a surprise.

"I was impressed (by her rise) but, for me, it was not a surprise," she said. "And I think she is handling it all well. And she is a nice person as well.

"I think she is the best player at this moment and she is having a really good time."

It comes after former World No.1 and tennis great Martina Hingis said she sees herself in the Aussie champ and praised the development of her game.

"I watched her when she was 16 coming on tour, or 15 when she got the wildcard into the Aussie Open," Hingis said.

"At that time, I guess, it was all overwhelming and I can understand that. When you're from Australia and you miss home, it's a long way away.

"I was lucky enough to have my family with me - my mother and (manager) Mario (Widmer), we all travelled together and we didn't really miss home. It's really difficult for an Australian player when you're really young to do all this and go through all of that.

"She has all the shots and the repertoire is so big and again you can call her game tennis. It's not just boom boom and full power.

"She's got that too - obviously - she's a very strong girl - but she's also got a different style to what we've probably seen in the last 10 years."