World No. 1 Ash Barty has shaken off any concerns regarding her fitness and overcome a spirited display by cancer survivor Carla Suarez Navarro to progress to the second round of Wimbledon on Tuesday.
With rain interrupting much of the day on the outside courts, Barty made a strong return under the roof inside Centre Court in her first match since being forced to retire from her second round match at Roland Garros due to a hip injury.
The 25-year-old was made to go the long way and play all three sets by an opponent who was playing for the final time at the All England Club, after returning from 18 months out of the game earlier this year due to Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Barty will now face either Russian Anna Blinkova or Hungarian Timea Babos in the round of 64 later this week after defeating Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-7(1), 6-1.
“There was a little bit of nervousness, probably not knowing exactly how my body was going to feel genuinely. I know that I had full trust that we'd done absolutely everything that we could. (But) you just never know,” Barty told reporters after her opening round victory on Tuesday afternoon.
“To be able to go out there today and play the way that I did was really nice. Overall it was just a really solid match to start things off. I think it was just an opportunity to go out there and test myself against someone who has proven it over a massively successful, long career, that you have to compete the very best to be able to match it with Carla.
“I felt like I was able to go to that level today and to be able to match it with her. Overall happy to get a start here at Wimbledon, play that really solid match, and now we kind of feel like we just keep working our way through the tournament as best that we can each and every day.”
Barty also demonstrated her class without a racquet in her hand by standing out of the spotlight at the conclusion of the match to allow the inspirational Spaniard to be celebrated by the London crowd, before praising Suarez Navarro for her resilience in her post-match press conference.
“She's a hell of a competitor; a hell of a fighter. It was a privilege to be able to share that moment, share that court with her. I hadn't had the opportunity to play Carla. It was really special to be able to experience what she can bring from the other side of the court,” she said.
“I think all credit goes to her for her resilience and her nature as a competitor, to be able to come back from the adversity that she has, and to be able to have that moment with her was nothing shy of remarkable.
“She's an exceptional person, a great fighter, a great competitor, and very well-loved and respected in the locker room. She's going to be sorely missed. I wanted to give her the appreciation that she thoroughly deserves. The crowd was exceptional. They gave her a remarkable reception as well as she's walking off the court.”
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