Barty continues giant-killing run in Miami

If Ash Barty is happy to declare that Sam Stosur has long set the “benchmark” for Australian tennis, and not just the women’s game, the younger Queenslander has earned a valuable chance to measure her own impressive comeback progress against the standard-setter by defeating former world No.5 Eugenie Bouchard to reach the second round of the Miami Open.

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Wildcard Barty, 20, won her debut match at the rich WTA Premier Mandatory hardcourt event 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, earning her the right to play 14th-seeded Stosur, the 2001 US Open champion, whose tournament opened with a bye.

The understated Australian pair have been Fed Cup teammates and practice partners, and will now meet on the match court for the first time.

“The way that Sam and Lleyton [Hewitt] have led all of Australian tennis for many, many years has truly been phenomenal,” Barty told Fairfax Media after her maiden WTA title in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month.

“I don’t think Sam gets the credit she deserves a lot of the time. She’s been such a consistent player for so many years and that’s so hard to do.

“For us, it’s easy to look up to and respect Sam so much, because she’s done so much for the sport in Australia. Obviously she’s a champion and she’s won one grand slam and won WTA titles, so it’s certainly nice to have a title next to my name now to sort of be edging a little bit closer. But Sam’s certainly set the benchmark for all of the female players coming through.”

Barty, the world No.91, is projected to reach a new career-high ranking of at least 84th and is already guaranteed main draw entry at the upcoming grand slams, having recently joined her doubles partner Casey Dellacqua and Stosur as home-grown Australian women in the past few years to achieve a double-figure singles ranking.

Yet she only returned to tennis a year ago following an extended break that started in 2014.

Barty then coached near her Ipswich home and dabbled in Big Bash cricket for a season – the latter helping to reinforce the fact that tennis was her true sporting love.

After easing back via low-key ITF doubles events and making an immediate singles impact during the 2016 grasscourt season, Barty won the recent Malaysian Open from qualifying, and has swept eight consecutive matches, with 56th-ranked Bouchard – another former Wimbledon junior champion who reached the 2014 women’s final at the All England club – easily the biggest-name scalp.

An upset of 19th-ranked Stosur would make it nine. “I think I was able to be very aggressive on returns and use my forehand,” Barty said in Miami.

“It came with a few errors as well but I knew I needed to be aggressive to give myself a chance and I think I did that today.”

Stosur, like Bouchard, is below her best form. The 32-year-old’s singles record in a season that started with three losses in Australian stand at 5-7. Her best result has been a quarter-final run in Doha. But the 33-year-old remains in the top 20 ahead of her favoured claycourt swing, and the four-time French Open semi-finalist – and 2010 runner-up – has finished the past eight seasons among the top 30.

“It’ll be nice to play Sam. We’ve practised a lot together in the past but never played against each other,” said Barty, who broke Bouchard’s shaky serve six times.

“It’s very similar – I’m going to have to be very aggressive off returns and try and take her serve away from her, then I think it might be a little bit of a battle of the forehands from us.”

Sydney’s Jordan Thompson lost 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 to Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, while Ajla Tomljanovic defeated Poland’s Magda Linette, a lucky loser from qualifying, after the withdrawal of her scheduled opponent CiCi Bellis due to illness.

Nick Kyrgios, as the 12th seed, has a bye, while struggling Bernard Tomic will meet Kazakh qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin.

With AAP