'She's an upgraded Hingis' – Barty lauded as she approaches No 1 milestone

Ashleigh Barty has been lauded as an “upgraded version” of Martina Hingis as she prepares to enter a landmark 100th week as women’s world No 1.

Only seven other women – Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, Chris Evert, Hingis, Monica Seles and Justine Henin – have spent 100 or more weeks at the top of the WTA rankings since they were introduced in 1976.

Although Barty appears unlikely to play again this season she is set to hold the No 1 ranking as she has nearly a 2,000-point lead over world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka.

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Former Australian Fed Cup captain David Taylor thinks Barty will stay at the summit for some time yet.

“She’s so well-rounded. So tactically aware. Serve, forehand. There’s not a lot of weaknesses in Ash’s tennis and, if you look at the great No 1s, they’re all well-rounded like that,” Taylor told AAP.

“In this time where the women’s tour has a lot of different grand slam winners, she’s definitely brought some consistency to the No 1 spot.”

Taylor has coached several top-20 women’s players, including former world No 1s Hingis and Ana Ivanovic. He was part of Hingis’ coaching team when she reached the 1999 French Open final and says Barty is better than the five-time Grand Slam champion.

She’s like an upgraded version. Still to this day, of the people I’ve coached, Martina was the most amazing how she could walk off the court and dissect a match with the clarity of a coach, an onlooker. And the only other person I’ve ever taught who had first-hand knowledge of that was when you talk to Ash about tennis. Like, she understands tennis. She’s by far the best tactician on the women’s tour. She’s so good at that.

“So (Ash has) the analytical skills of Hingis and also the variety but a better serve, obviously, than Martina and she’s able to subdue the power of her opponents, which Hingis did well. Ash is an improved version of Martina because she’s got a better serve, probably a better slice backhand so definitely that style of tennis but upgraded.”

Taylor also likened Barty to another Swiss legend, Roger Federer, for her all-round play and tactical ability.

“She’s got so many ways,” he said. “You look at Roger, he can tactically win with such an array of tactics and having coached on the WTA Tour for so long, you’re often left with quite a very narrow set of tactics for most of your players on there.

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“With Ash, she’s dangerous on all surfaces, which she’s obviously already proven, and she’s won the two biggest Grand Slams on the most contrasting surfaces so she’s got a lot of ways to win matches. Definitely has a lot of massive problem-solving abilities and tactically can put girls in such challenging situations because of the breadth in her game.

“She’s the best player in the world. I’m stating the obvious but she really is the best tennis player, not just the best ball striker. No doubt the player of the year. The WTA has a lot of great ball strikers but she’s a great tennis player and that’s the big difference.”

Barty has won five titles this season, including the second Grand Slam of her career at Wimbledon.

However, she is not playing at Indian Wells this week and appears unlikely to contest the WTA Finals after they were moved to Mexico due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most weeks as women’s No 1 since 1976

1 Steffi Graf (377)

2 Martina Navratilova (332)

3 Serena Williams (319)

4 Chris Evert (260)

5 Martina Hingis (209)

6 Monica Seles (178)

7 Justine Henin (117)

8 Ashleigh Barty (99)

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Australian Open: Will players need to be vaccinated? What are quarantine rules?

The 2022 Australian Open is just over three months away and already attention has turned to the Covid-19 regulations that are going to be in place at the tournament.

Earlier this year in Melbourne players were placed in strict hotel quarantine due to the pandemic, with limited training time and some not allowed out until close to the start of the Grand Slam. The rules may be loosened a little in January, but players are likely to be in bio-secure bubbles, may need to travel to Australia over Christmas, and there are reports that it could be mandatory to be vaccinated to compete.

Ahead of the opening Grand Slam of 2022 we look at what’s in store and what it could mean for the likes of Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and more…

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What’s the situation in Melbourne?

This week Melbourne passed 246 days in lockdown and overtook Buenos Aires as the city that has spent the most cumulative time in lockdown. But restrictions will reportedly be lifted once the vaccination rate in the state of Victoria gets to 70 per cent, which is expected to be later this month. There were protests in September over the lockdown.

When will players have to travel to Australia?

There won’t be much celebrating over Christmas for most players who are planning to compete at the Australian Open.

Like this year, qualifying is set to take place in the Middle East, with the women’s event in Dubai and the men’s qualifying in Abu Dhabi. The final round of qualifying is scheduled to take place around Christmas Eve.

For those who don’t have to qualify there will still be travel over the Christmas period due to the quarantine regulations on arrival. The Australian Open starts on January 17 and there will likely be warm-up tournaments in the fortnight leading up to it.

Current Australian rules state that all international travellers entering the country need to undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a designated facility.

US Open champion Emma Raducanu has said that she has no problems with travel over the festive period. “Whatever needs to be done to be able to play the Australian Open, I’ll do. To me it’s not even a thought or like a battle in my mind. I just want to be at the Australian Open, and I want to compete there, so, whatever it takes to do, I’ll go.”

What rules will be in place?

It is expected that rather than being placed in hotel quarantine as they were this year, players will be in bio-secure bubbles, which will allow them slightly more freedom. The regulations at the 2021 Australian Open frustrated some players as they were unable to train as much as they wanted and had to spend most of their time in their hotel room. There were concerns that two weeks of inactivity followed by matches could cause injuries, and Djokovic wrote to Australian Open officials to see if the rules could be eased – a move that wasn’t successful and saw Nick Kyrgios brand him a “tool”.

Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley said in August that the planned bubble for 2022 would allow players “to move freely between the hotel and courts”.

They’re protected, they’re kept safe among themselves and safe from the community as well. And after those two weeks they’ll come out and be able to compete in the Australian Open in front of crowds.

It is not yet clear how many fans will be able to attend each day at Melbourne Park, with attendances at the 2021 Australian Open capped. There were also several days without any fans as Victoria went into a five-day lockdown.

Will players need to be vaccinated to play?

It has been reported in Australia that players will need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to compete at the Australian Open and there will be no exceptions made.

Daniel Andrews, the head government official in the state of Victoria, said recently: “The only title that will protect you is you being able to have had your first dose and second dose. If you are coming to visit, the notion of you getting in here without being vaccinated, I think, is very, very low.”

The decision could have an impact on Djokovic’s chances of winning a 21st Grand Slam in Melbourne.

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The Australian Open has been his most successful major but he has been sceptical about the vaccine in the past and has said he doesn’t think it should be a requirement to play on the tour. He has not revealed if he has had a first vaccine dose yet.

Djokovic is not the only one whose plans could be impacted.

At the US Open this summer an ATP spokesman said that just above 50 per cent of male players were vaccinated, even though the men’s tour “continues to strongly recommend vaccination to players.” A WTA spokeswoman said nearly half of female players were vaccinated and they hoped to get that number above 85 per cent by the end of the year.

World No 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas said in August that he didn’t plan on getting the vaccine until it was mandatory to play on tour – but then made a U-turn on that decision after getting criticism from the Greek government. Women’s world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka said she didn’t “trust” the vaccine earlier this year, but has been ruled out of Indian Wells after testing positive. Andrey Rublev and Elina Svitolina also said they were unsure about getting the vaccine earlier this year.

The Age newspaper in Melbourne has reported that Tiley has “become resigned” to the fact that players will need to be vaccinated after conversations with government officials.

However, Ashleigh Barty’s coach Craig Tyzzer has said quarantine regulations could put players off.

“I know that players won’t come out if they have to quarantine,” he said this week. “There’s already quite a few who we’ve spoken to who have said if it’s like last year, they’re not coming.”

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Barty's coach hits out at 'ridiculous' quarantine decision on Australia return

Ashleigh Barty’s coach has expressed frustration at “ridiculous” quarantine rules in Australia that have meant the world No 1 has had to spend the last two weeks in a hotel rather than at home.

Having been away from home since March, Barty finally returned to Australia in late September.

According to the Australian Associated Press she was denied a home quarantine period on arrival, despite testing negative for Covid-19 on at least 68 occasions this year.

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“For travellers coming back, if you’re an Australian overseas, they don’t make it easy,” said Barty’s coach Craig Tyzzer.

“You can’t get flights, it’s ridiculously expensive and you’ve got to do two weeks’ quarantine in a hotel where you can’t open windows.

“You get tested basically the same amounts in the tournaments, both players and their teams. So we were up to 68 when Ash left for London and I left to come home to Australia.

“It’s part of what we had to put up with this year. It’s not much fun. You know at least everybody around you and in the tournaments are safe and Covid-free so it certainly enables you to operate. But to come back and do another couple of weeks (in quarantine) after two tests and finding out you’re negative, it’s a bit ridiculous.”

Current Australian rules state that all international travellers entering the country need to undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a designated facility.

Barty is set to decide whether she will defend her title at the season-ending WTA Finals, which have been moved from China to Mexico due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kate Middleton plays tennis with Emma Raducanu

It appears unlikely she will, given she has withdrawn from Indian Wells and the Billie Jean Cup, and playing in the finals would disrupt her preparations for the Australian summer.

If Barty did compete in Mexico she would have to complete a second fortnight in quarantine upon her return to Australia in mid-November, which would impact her pre-season planning ahead of the Australian Open, which starts on January 17.

“Obviously having the right (Australian Open) lead-up is ideal. Being able to get a pre-season in is massive,” said Tyzzer.

“So obviously the more time we get to work on the things we need to work on and progress in this sport will give us the best opportunity coming into the summer, that’s for sure.”

Tyzzer also said some players will be reluctant to travel to the 2022 Australian Open if there are strict quarantine rules in place.

Earlier this year, players had to spend most of their time in hotel rooms upon arrival, and this time around they are likely to be staying in bio-secure bubbles.

“I know that players won’t come out if they have to quarantine,” said Tyzzer. “There’s already quite a few who we’ve spoken to who have said if it’s like last year, they’re not coming.”

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Then and now: How much has changed in 932 days since last Indian Wells?

They say 932 days is a long time in tennis.

OK, they don’t, but it is. That’s the number of days that Indian Wells had gone without a professional tennis match before qualifying for the main draw started on Monday. The 2020 edition of the tournament was called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic and this season’s edition has been moved from March to October due to the restrictions in place earlier this year.

So what’s changed in tennis in the last 932 days? Plenty.

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Perhaps most notably on the men’s side there will not be a former champion in the draw, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Juan Martin del Potro all out. Thiem was the champion when the tournament was last played in 2019 as he won the first Masters title of his career. He is yet to win another, but he has been a part of a shift at the top of the game.

While there were few clear suggestions at Indian Wells in 2019 that the era of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer was coming to an end, they have only won five Masters titles between them since. There have also been two new Grand Slam winners, compared to none in the four years before the 2019 edition of Indian Wells. Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Thiem and Alexander Zverev have all broken through and cemented their places at the top of the game and where there was a strong veteran presence in the top 10 in 2019, with six players aged 30 or over, now there are six players aged 25 or under.

And the overall Grand Slam standings have shifted dramatically too. When Indian Wells was last played there was a clear leader – Federer. Now there are three co-leaders. Of the three, only Federer has failed to win a Slam in the last 30 months. Nadal has gone from 17 to 20 with two French Open titles and one US Open title, while Djokovic has shot from 15 to 20. There’s one more up for grabs at the Australian Open in January before Indian Wells is staged again in its normal slot of March in 2022.

A few more notable absentees at this year’s Indian Wells are Marin Cilic, Borna Coric and Milos Raonic. Cilic and Coric were seeded 10th and 11th in 2019, now the Croatian pair are both outside the top 40 in the world and will not be playing this week. Raonic made the semi-finals at Indian Wells two years ago, but is also not competing this time around due to injury. Will any of the three be able to get back into the top 10 or 20 again? It seems unlikely with the young players coming through.

Jannik Sinner was outside the top 300 in the world in 2019, now he’s knocking on the door of the top 10. Felix Auger Aliassime, who beat Tsitsipas and Cameron Norrie at Indian Wells last time out, has gone from outside the top 50 to 11th in the world. Casper Ruud had just broken into the top 100 in early 2019, now he’s world No 10 and has won the most titles (5) of any player this year.

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The landscape also looks different on the WTA side, although the change has not been as dramatic. Almost all of the top 10 that competed at Indian Wells in 2019 are still near the top of the game, with Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams and Kiki Bertens the biggest fallers. Ashleigh Barty and Aryna Sabalenka have both improved their positions in the last two year, although they will not be at Indian Wells, and, like on the ATP Tour, there has been an injection of youth.

Iga Swiatek, 20, didn’t make it through qualifying when Indian Wells was last played, now she is ranked No 4 in the world. Sofia Kenin has gone from No 34 in the world to a top-10 player and Coco Gauff and Emma Raducanu have both burst onto the scene. Gauff, 17, was still largely playing at ITF level in early 2019, and it wasn’t until the summer that she made her breakthrough at Wimbledon when she beat Venus Williams and made the last 16. Raducanu, 18, was competing at ITF tournaments in China the last time that Indian Wells was played; now she has rocketed up to No 22 in the world after an incredible summer.

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The top 30 in 2019 also included four players who have now retired: Maria Sharapova, although she did not play Indian Wells that year due to a shoulder injury, Caroline Wozniacki, Carla Suarez Navarro and Bertens.

One thing that remains the same is Serena Williams’ quest to win a 24th Grand Slam title. In 2018 she lost two major finals and after Indian Wells in 2019 she would lose two more. She hasn’t been back to a final since and looks as though she will not play again this season as she recovers from the injury that kept her out of the US Open.

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Things also look different from a British perspective. Katie Boulter and Heather Watson both lost in qualifying in 2019 – Boulter has done the same this year while Watson is automatically in the main draw – and the highest-ranked British woman was Johanna Konta. She was unseeded for the tournament and lost to seventh seed Bertens in the third round. Konta has had a difficult 2021 season as she has split with her coach, tested positive for Covid-19 and had injuries that have impacted how much she can play, leading to her slipping down to No 82 in the world. Raducanu will lead the British charge this year.

Johanna Konta

Image credit: Getty Images

It has been a similar story for the British men as Kyle Edmund has gone from making the fourth round as the 22nd seed in 2019, to dropping outside the top 100 in the world. While Edmund has dropped down the rankings, Dan Evans and Norrie have moved up. They are both inside the top 20 and results this week will determine who comes out of Indian Wells as British No 1.

No towels, no line judges

What else has changed since Indian Wells has been away? Unlike in 2019 there will be no ball kids scampering off to fetch towels for players in between points. That has been eradicated due to the Covid-19 pandemic and line judges are also heading the same way. The electronic line calling used at the US Open will also be in place at Indian Wells. There will, though, be fans in the stands just as there was when the tournament was last played. Indian Wells is one of the largest venues on tour, with a main court holding 16,000 fans, second only in size to Arthur Ashe in New York among outdoor tennis stadiums. It has been reported that organisers expect the event to be at 60 per cent capacity over the 11 days.

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Raducanu handed Indian Wells wildcard, can still qualify for WTA Finals

Emma Raducanu has been handed a wildcard for the Indian Wells main draw as she retains hopes of qualifying for the WTA Finals in Mexico.

Raducanu became the first British women’s Grand Slam singles champion since 1977 at the US Open, and her remarkable achievement has seen her overtake Johanna Konta as the highest-ranked woman from Britain.
The 18-year-old, who began the year ranked at number 345 in the world (the 11th best British woman), is now at number 22, but the entry list for Indian Wells was published during the US Open, prior to her meteoric rise.

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The popular tournament, which is often referred to informally as ‘the fifth Grand Slam’, takes place in California from October 4-17 and will be the Brit’s first event since her triumph at Flushing Meadows.

Raducanu has also entered WTA tournaments in Russia and Romania in October as she targets a place at the season-ending WTA Finals in Guadalajara, something which would represent yet another remarkable achievement.

She is currently 14th in the race to secure a spot at the illustrious event, and she requires just under 400 points to place within the top eight.

Raducanu’s prospects improved further after it was announced on Tuesday that world number one Ashleigh Barty had withdrawn from Indian Wells, with her prospects of playing at the WTA Finals seemingly in doubt.

The Wimbledon champion last played at the US Open, where she was knocked out in the third round, and has been away from home since March, along with her team, following the Australian Open.

For Raducanu, it has been a wild few weeks, from appearing on the red carpet at the Met Gala in New York, to receiving a VIP welcome at the New York Stock Exchange and even splitting from her coach at Flushing Meadows, former British professional Andrew Richardson.

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Despite being alongside the 47-year-old for the stunning win at just her second Grand Slam, Raducanu said she believed that she now needed a coach with more WTA Tour experience to enable her to build on her breakthrough success.

“Where I was at after Wimbledon, I was ranked around 200 in the world and, at the time, I thought Andrew would be a great coach to trial,” Raducanu explained.

“We went to the States but never did I even dream of winning the US Open and having the run I did; now I’m ranked 22 in the world, which is pretty crazy to me.

“I feel like at this stage in my career, and playing the top players in the world, I realised I really need someone right now that has had that WTA Tour experience at the high levels.

Especially right now, because I’m so new to it, I really need someone to guide me who’s already been through that.

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Barty withdraws from Indian Wells with remainder of season in doubt

World number one Ashleigh Barty may be in the process of ending her season prematurely after it was announced that she had withdrawn from Indian Wells.

The Wimbledon champion last played at the US Open, where she was knocked out in the third round, and has been away from home since March, along with her team, following the Australian Open.

It is perhaps not surprising that Barty may be drawing her season to a close after the outspoken comments from her coach, Craig Tyzzer, on his player having to undergo two weeks of home quarantine on her return to Australia from the WTA Finals in Guadalajara.

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Tyzzer slammed the “ridiculous” playing conditions for the WTA Finals after it was moved to Mexico. It was supposed to be played in Shenzhen, China, but had to be switched to Guadalajara due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Barty won the WTA Finals the last time they were held in 2019, but her coach said he was uncertain if she would defend her title.

“We only just found out it’s in Mexico at 1500 metres (above sea level) and they’re using pressure-less balls,” Tyzzer told the Australian Associated Press.

“Pressure-less balls absolutely fly. It’s a ball that, if you use it in normal conditions, it doesn’t bounce. It’s not the greatest advertisement for the best girls in the world to be playing something they’ve never done before.

In conditions they’ve never played, in a country they don’t play and at altitude, I just feel it’s ridiculous. As a spectacle, it’s just frightening.

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Tyzzer said Barty is “physically and mentally exhausted” and wouldn’t want to jeopardise her preparations for the 2022 Australian Open by playing in the WTA Finals, which start on November 8.

“She just needs a rest. So I told her to just get away and have a holiday,” he said.

“It certainly isn’t easy for us to get there and to play that event in Mexico and then to come back and have to do two (more) weeks (in quarantine) and then your summer is sort of ruined as well. It’s a decision we’ll have to sit and mull over quite a bit.”

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'She is a billion-dollar girl' – How Raducanu has the world at her feet

Whether winning the US Open is just the start of a long and successful tennis career for Emma Raducanu remains to be seen, but it is clearly the start of a new life for her.

Since her shock win in New York earlier this month, Raducanu, 18, has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Naomi Osaka, Lewis Hamilton and Serena Williams at the Met Gala. She has done a number of media appearances around the world, seen her Instagram followers shoot up to over two million – joining Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Eugenie Bouchard, and Sania Mirza as the only active tennis players to hit this milestone – and this week signed a sponsorship deal with luxury jewellery brand Tiffany & Co.

The endorsement is expected to be the first of many for Raducanu, whose profile should soar even higher over the coming years. Nike, Adidas, Uniqlo, Aston Martin, Chanel and Lacoste are just some of the brands said to be circling. The opportunities are almost endless – and potentially overwhelming.

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Raducanu’s huge sponsorship appeal is partly because of her background. She was born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mum, grew up in England, and made her major breakthrough in New York. She has already tapped into the audience in the Far East by posting a message of her speaking mandarin and thanking fans for their support on Chinese social media platform Weibo. That, and the fact that she was happy to stick around in New York after the US Open and appear on TV shows and attend A-list events as if she was a seasoned pro, served to show her intentions to be a global star.

Her sponsorship deals before the US Open were reportedly just with Nike and Wilson, and amounted to £100,000 a year combined. The endorsement with Tiffany & Co is apparently a seven-figure sum, and Nike and Wilson will likely be very keen to secure her services for the long-term future. That will be just the start, with PR guru Mark Borkowski predicting that Raducanu could be Britain’s first billion-dollar sport star.

“This is the start of something epic,” Borkowski, who has worked with Michael Jackson, Joan Rivers and Led Zeppelin, among others, told The Guardian.

She is a billion-dollar girl, no doubt about it. She is the real deal.

“It’s not just that she plays extraordinary tennis, it’s also her background, her ethnicity, her freedom of spirit. People also love the fact that she is vulnerable, but laughs the pressures away.”

There are other factors that suggest stardom beckons for Raducanu.

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Firstly, she is represented by the IMG talent agency, with the renowned Max Eisenbud said to be managing her affairs. Eisenbud played a big role in turning Maria Sharapova into the top-paid female athlete for more than a decade, and also worked with China’s first-ever Grand Slam winner Li Na. Sharapova burst onto the scene when she won Wimbledon aged 17, but Eisenbud had set the groundwork for her to rise to the top long before that. Winning her first major was the big step needed to become a household name almost overnight – just as with Raducanu – and Eisenbud quickly helped the Russian become one of the world’s most recognised sports figures. But Sharapova also had success on the court; just a year after winning Wimbledon she became world No 1. Will Raducanu also follow up her US Open win with more titles in the next year?

Even if she doesn’t, her trajectory might be helped by the current layout at the top of the WTA Tour.

While the strength in depth in the top 20 – which Raducanu currently sits just outside of – seems to be growing on the court, the global star power is perhaps not as strong as it has been in previous years. Osaka is the obvious exception as the highest-earning sportswoman in the world, having being paid around £40m in endorsements in the last year alone and secured deals with Nike, Beats by Dre and Mastercard, among others. Yet outside of Osaka – who also appeals to audiences around the world due to her mixed background with a Japanese mother and a Haitian-American father – there aren’t many other players who look as though they will attract the same attention as Raducanu.

It was predicted that Iga Swiatek would become one of the faces of women’s tennis after her stunning breakthrough at the French Open in 2020, and she has signed several sponsorship deals to increase her profile. However, even though her form has been solid this year, she cannot command the same global market share as Raducanu. The same could be said for the top five in the world, with Ashleigh Barty, Aryna Sabalenka, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Barbora Krejcikova having not yet expanded their appeal much beyond their home countries. Perhaps the closest rival to Raducanu is 17-year-old Coco Gauff, who could be set to step into the void left by Serena Williams. She has already signed multi-year deals with the likes of New Balance and Italian food company Barilla, who also sponsor Roger Federer, and a Grand Slam win for Gauff would be enormous in the development of her profile.

Another plus for Raducanu is that she is filling a huge gap in the British market. She is the first female British Grand Slam champion since 1977 and the first female British tennis superstar since…? Johanna Konta got to No 4 in the world and has made Grand Slam semi-finals, but her success has not captured the public’s attention anywhere near as much as Raducanu’s runs at New York and Wimbledon did. Before Konta you have to go all the way back to Virginia Wade, Jo Durie and Sue Barker in the 1970’s and 1980’s. British tennis has been crying out for a female superstar in the 21st century.

Whether or not Raducanu overtakes the likes of Swiatek and Osaka on and off the court, she can also learn lessons from both.

Swiatek has spoken about the difficulties she has faced this year as she has tried to balance her newfound fame and business interests with also competing on the WTA Tour and trying to win more titles – “it’s much, much different when you suddenly get success.” Osaka has also found it challenging at times to constantly be in the spotlight and is currently taking an indefinite break from tennis.

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Raducanu had a care-free attitude at the US Open but now she is going to face choices about how much time to commit to off-court interests and also where to invest her time and money. Sponsorship lawyer Andy Korman, who has worked on contracts for a number of top-tier British sports stars, thinks Raducanu is almost uniquely positioned to tap into the young person’s market in Europe, North America and China, and will have “her pick” of who to work with.

“She’s still at the stage of building her own personal brand and people will pay attention to the kind of sponsors she takes on,” Korman told PA. “She has a good chance to pretty much take her pick, and she has the chance of going with brands that she believes in. You define yourself by the company you keep really.

“The kinds of people she gets involved with, she has got an element of personal choice there. This is where the personality marketing comes into it and her agency comes into play.”

While Raducanu may appear to have the world at her feet, there have been warnings too. Tennis coaching legend Nick Bollettieri wants Raducanu to be allowed to “breathe” and “find her way”. Lawn Tennis Association chief executive Scott Lloyd also suggested she might need some space and to have some time away from the spotlight. “It will take some adjustment and she will need some breathing space. There will be bumps in the road, and there will be times next year when she is going to have a target on her back, and she will have to get used to that.”

Not only will Raducanu have to get used to a new status on the WTA Tour, but she will also have to get used to seeing her face on many more billboards and magazines as her stock continues to grow.

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Opinion: No multiple major winners again, but Barty’s 2021 season should be given more respect

If variety is the spice of life, then the WTA Tour is definitely doing things right.

Yet again the season is going to conclude without a repeat Grand Slam champion, just as has happened for the last four years. The last time that a woman won two majors in the same year was Angelique Kerber in 2016. Serena Williams had been doing it regularly before that, but nobody has been able to dominate the tour like the 23-time major winner quite yet.

That doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there though. Quite the opposite. The talent pool is arguably looking stronger than it has for years – and there’s still the chance for Ashleigh Barty to firmly stamp her mark on the 2021 season.

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In the absence of multiple winners in the same season, Barty, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza have all won at least two majors since 2016. There have also been some surprise winners, such as Emma Raducanu’s remarkable win this year, Bianca Andreescu storming through the US Open as a 19-year-old, and Jeļena Ostapenko’s shock French Open success in 2017. And there are other first-time winners like Iga Swiatek and Sofia Kenin who should be competing for more Grand Slams in the very near future.

While the women’s tour is sometimes denigrated for being too unpredictable, especially in comparison to the ‘Big-Three’ dominated ATP Tour, there is actually a consistency that has emerged at the top of the game, and a strength in depth that makes it extremely competitive. That is not to say that there are not more upsets than on the ATP Tour – there still are, and Osaka and Barty will probably be disappointed that they haven’t managed to win multiple Grand Slams in a single season.

Osaka has won four Grand Slams but all have been in different years. In 2019 she was the defending champion at the US Open after winning in Australia earlier in the year, but lost to Belinda Bencic in the fourth round. Then at the following Australian Open lost in the third round before winning the US Open six months later. And this year it was a similar story again as she won in Melbourne and exited early in New York. After losing at the Australian Open in 2020, Osaka said she was still learning how to deal with the status of a champion.

I just feel tight playing here a little bit because of the defending thing. I feel like there are moments where I can handle them and then there are moments like this where I get overwhelmed and I don’t really know what to do in the situation.

While Osaka’s preparation for this year’s US Open dented her chances of victory, Barty looked like one of the most upset-proof top seeds at a major in a while. She went into the tournament on the back of victory at the Western & Southern Open and won her opening two matches in straight sets. But she came unstuck in the third round against Shelby Rogers, who battled back from a double break down in the final set to win. It was no surprise to hear her coach Craig Tyzzer say last week that she is “physically and mentally exhausted” after spending the entire season on the road.

Maybe 2022 will be the year that Osaka or Barty win multiple majors, or maybe another player will rise to the challenge. The three that stand out are: world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka, world No 3 Karolina Pliskova and world No 8 Iga Swiatek.

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Sabalenka has had a strong summer, making her first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon and then following up with another run to the last four at the US Open. She was beaten in three sets on both occasions and said after losing to Leylah Fernandez in New York that the occasion had got to her a bit. “As far as you go in the draw, more expectation you have…Because of the expectations and all this pressure and everything, I was trying to maybe make her move, I was going for closer to the lines. The mistakes were like this sometimes in important moments. Maybe sometimes I have to go back and start from the simple game.”

If Sabalenka’s Grand Slam hopes are looking up, the same could probably be said for Pliskova. She has been a perennial under-achiever at majors considering she has been world No 1 and also spent most of the last five years in the top 10. But after previously only making two semi-finals in her career she reached her first final at Wimbledon and took Barty to three sets. If this is the peak of her career, aged 29, then she has the weapons to win at least one major.

Swiatek has already lifted a Grand Slam trophy after her shock run at the French Open in 2020, and she is the only woman to make the second week at all four majors this year. However, with just one quarter-final appearance in 2021 she is keen to improve.

I am proud. But the best kind of consistency is when you can win, like, five titles a year. So right now I’m looking at the results that Ash [Barty] has, comparing to that, I’m not, like, 100 per cent consistent…I’m like 70 per cent consistent.

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How can any of the top WTA players take the next step and dominate? Perhaps they can’t, perhaps the strength at the top of the game is too deep. Even Raducanu and Fernandez blazing trails in New York did not shock everyone because of the high standards set by the younger players. “I’m not surprised at all,” said Pliskova.

I think some of the young girls, they are playing really good tennis…I think the level is quite high no matter who is in the draw.

Sabalenka offered a similar assessment. “The young generation are working hard, doing their best, using everything they have, doing everything they have. It’s kind of normal, I would say.”

A look at the rankings suggests the depth on the WTA Tour is getting stronger. The top 10 is packed with major winners and players close to making breakthroughs at majors, just outside the top 10 are multiple Slam champions Halep and Angelique Kerber, and not far behind are four of the most exciting young talents in tennis: Coco Gauff, Bianca Andreescu, Raducanu and Fernandez.

With the depth being so strong maybe it is unfair to judge dominance on Grand Slam titles alone, and maybe more respect should be given to Barty’s 2021 season. She has won two more titles (5) than any other player and has the best win percentage of anyone (0.840 per cent) by a good margin. She has also won a major at Wimbledon and may have got another in Paris if she wasn’t injured. With the consistency she has shown over the last few years, Barty seems as well-placed as anyone to lead women’s tennis. If she finishes the season by winning either Indian Wells or the season-ending WTA Finals (the two tournaments she is most expected to play, although there is some doubt over the latter) then that would take her to six titles for the year. Given the quality of those titles (one Grand Slam, two WTA 1000’s, two WTA 500’s so far) it would surely be the best overall season since Williams won three Grand Slams and two WTA 1000 tournaments in 2015. She would also be the first WTA player since Williams in 2014 to win more than five titles in a season.

Whether Barty wins multiple Slams or not in 2022, she would probably sign off for more of the same as this year.

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'It's ridiculous' – Barty may not play WTA Finals after Mexico move, says coach

World No 1 Ashleigh Barty may not play the season-ending WTA Finals because of the “ridiculous” playing conditions now it has been moved to Mexico, according to her coach.

The WTA Finals feature the world’s top eight singles players and eight doubles teams.

It was supposed to be played in Shenzhen, China, but this week it was announced that it has been switched to Guadalajara in Mexico due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Barty won the WTA Finals the last time they were held in 2019, but her coach Craig Tyzzer is uncertain if she will defend her title.

“We only just found out it’s in Mexico at 1500 metres (above sea level) and they’re using pressure-less balls,” Tyzzer told the Australian Associated Press.

“Pressure-less balls absolutely fly. It’s a ball that, if you use it in normal conditions, it doesn’t bounce. It’s not the greatest advertisement for the best girls in the world to be playing something they’ve never done before

“In conditions they’ve never played, in a country they don’t play and at altitude, I just feel it’s ridiculous. As a spectacle, it’s just frightening.”

Barty and Tyzzer have been on the road all year and are only set to return home to Australia at the end of the season.

Tyzzer says Barty, who lost in the third round of the US Open this month, is “physically and mentally exhausted” and wouldn’t want to jeopardise her preparations for the 2022 Australian Open by playing in the WTA Finals, which start on November 8.

“Indian Wells (next month) is still on the radar but she just needs a rest. So I told her to just get away and have a holiday.

“It certainly isn’t easy for us to get there and to play that event in Mexico and then to come back and have to do two (more) weeks (in quarantine) and then your summer is sort of ruined as well. It’s a decision we’ll have to sit and mull over quite a bit.”

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