Laver backs Barty to go all the way

Eighth seed takes on Keys for a place in Roland-Garros semis.

 - Alex Sharp

“I think I have the game on clay to be able to do some damage, I just have to continue to learn how to use it properly.”

Australia’s leading charge Ashleigh Barty is learning fast and is definitely doing some damage on European clay - and especially at Roland-Garros in 2019.

The world No.8 made this confident statement back in April before steady progress on the road to Roland-Garros. That included a quarter-final quest in Madrid - where she fell to Simona Halep - and clinching the doubles title alongside Victoria Azarenka in Rome.

Five previous visits to Paris have proven fruitless with early exits, but now Barty is on the brink of booking her ticket into the silverware showdown.

The amiable Australian demonstrated plenty of grit and guile to halt Serena Williams’ conqueror Sofia Kenin in the fourth round. The 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 triumph secured a second successive quarter-final at a Grand Slam tournament.

The 23-year-old is now just three victories away from becoming Australia’s first Roland-Garros singles champion since Margaret Court in 1973.

Well, "the Rocket" Rod Laver has taken note.

“Australia is behind you @ashbar96, Queensland gold! You can go all the way, no question I’ll be cheering hard,” tweeted the legendary Laver on Monday prior to Barty’s win over Kenin. “So proud. Rocket.”

Toasting the 50th anniversary of his unprecedented second calendar Grand Slam, the Rocket is at Roland-Garros and managed to head onto Court Philippe-Chatrier to cheer on his compatriot from Queensland.

“It's amazing what she has accomplished here. A couple of years back, she was a good doubles player and played some attractive singles. But something happened. She says, I know how to win matches now, and I think that's what Barty has accomplished this year,” Laver told reporters in Paris.

“I know she won a tournament (Miami) not too far back where I think it was one of the top players, and I didn't see the match, but when I read that she finished off the match with three aces and she's 5-foot nothing. I said, 'Well, that has to be a misprint. How did she do that?’

“So, her improvement, I think it's more confidence than anything else. Most players with inferior games, but with confidence, you can make anything happen.”

Now that is quite the endorsement.

Barty was unaware of Laver's tweet until seeing it ping up on her phone in the locker room.

“He’s an incredible person. It was pure luck that our cars arrived at the same time,” said the world No.8, referring to their snap together. “But he's an amazing champion. It's really nice to be able to play in front of him. A very, very special guy.”

Next up Barty tackles the artillery of 2018 Roland-Garros semi-finalist Madison Keys, who Barty defeated 6-4, 6-1 in Fed Cup action back in February.

However, American 14th seed Keys is also embracing her renewed clay success, hoping to repeat an emphatic 6-3, 6-2 victory over Barty at Roland-Garros 2017.

“I played her here at Roland-Garros a few years ago in a match I would love to forget. I think it's very much a fresh, clean slate from this match, at Fed Cup that we had as well,” analysed Barty, aware of the hype and hopes intensifying back home.

“I think obviously there's a little bit more talk around and a little bit more attention. But for me, nothing changes.

“She's obviously had really good success here in the past. I think it's an amazing opportunity for me to go out there and try and play my brand of tennis again, and take it to her as much as I can.”