Tennis-Centre Court date makes up for bubble life, says Barty

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·3-min read
Tennis: Wimbledon
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By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - Life in the Wimbledon's COVID-19 bubble is not everyone's cup of tea but women's top seed Ash Barty is happy to reside in at as long as required if it means more Centre Court appearances.

The 25-year-old was handed the prestigious opening slot on Tuesday, usually reserved for women's defending champions, for her first-round clash with Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro.

That was because Simona Halep is missing due to injury, but the way Barty played for most of a 6-1 6-7(1) 6-1 victory over the Spaniard in an eye-catching contest augured well for her chances of claiming the title for the first time.

It was Barty's first grasscourt match for two years and she looked perfectly at home on the lush turf under the roof that closed early on in the match when rain began to fall.

"The bubble is all worth it to be able to experience moments like today on a beautiful Centre Court," said Barty, who wore a white dress similar to the one fellow Australian Evonne Goolagong wore when she won her first Wimbledon title 50 years ago.

"My first time playing under the Centre Court roof as well. When it was closing, Carla and I both were kind of looking, peaking outside and looking at it. It was just unbelievable.

"To play my first round on there against Carla was awesome. The bubbles are worth it. It's what we have to do to be able to experience this tournament."

Players usually rent private houses and have the freedom of leafy Wimbledon Village but strict COVID-19 protocols mean this year they must all stay in a central London hotel and are only allowed to be there or at the All England Club.

Barty took 49 weeks out of the game when tennis closed down last year because of the pandemic.

HIP PROBLEM

She has returned this year in great form, however, even if there have been injury niggles, such as the hip problem that meant she had to retire at the French Open -- the tournament she won to claim her first Grand Slam title in 2019.

Barty, who has won three titles this year, suffered a brief dip when she failed to close out the match when serving at 5-4 in the second set -- although she was full of praise for an opponent who made a real match of it on what was an emotional farewell to the All England Club.

Former world number six Suarez Navarro, 32, will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, having announced in April that she had been given the all-clear after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of cancer, last September.

Known for her beautiful single-handed backhand, Suarez Navarro was given a rousing ovation as she left the court, with Barty leading the applause.

"It was a privilege more than anything to be able to share the court with Carla," Barty said.

"She's a hell of a competitor, a hell of a fighter. It was a privilege to be able to share that court with her. I hadn't had the opportunity to play Carla.

"She deserves nothing but the best. She's an exceptional person, a great fighter, a great competitor, and very well-loved and respected in the locker room."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)

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