Barty party rolls on despite noisy scare
ASH Barty has survived a huge first-round scare, escaping the clutches of big-hitting Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka in a three-set slog on Rod Laver Arena.
Australia's leading title contender and 18th seed was pushed to the brink by the tenacious 19-year-old, but showed a cool head in the third-set furnace.
Barty finally emerged a 6-7 6-4 6-4 winner after more than two hours, breaking Sabalenka's serve in the seventh game of the second set and the fifth game of the third to advance to the second round.
But while Sabalenka showed admirable fighting spirit, it was her loud and long grunting that frustrated fans.
Sections of the Rod Laver crowd even began to mock her whaling in the second set before being told to be quiet by the chair umpire.
Twitter also lit up with viewers venting their anger over Sabalenka's piercing voice box, with former player and now commentator Todd Woodbridge joining the critics.
Barty, who appeared to mouth the word "loud" in the direction of her box early in the match, admitted Sabalenka's screams had surprised her.
"I knew it was coming, but it was a bit louder than I thought, Barty said.
"But I knew I just had to let that go and worry about myself."
Barty said she wasn't bothered by the constant grunting.
"A lot of players grunt. A lot of players don't grunt. It's just the way they are, the way they play," Barty said.
"For me, it wasn't a distraction. It wasn't anything like that. It was just part and parcel. I knew it was coming."
Asked if it irritated her, Barty said: "Not at all. I think if something that small can irritate you, that's a bigger issue in itself.
"I was prepared for it. I mean, obviously in the first couple of games you get used to it. Everyone has a bit of a different grunt."
She raced to an early 3-0 first set lead in nine minutes before Sabalenka found her range as a noisy power barrage rocked centre court.
With Sabalenka wielding her forehand like an axe and playing like the tiger she has tattooed on her forearm, it appeared Barty was going to follow the seven Australians eliminated earlier on day two.
But with Richmond captain Trent Cotchin cheering her on, the Tigers fan dug in to show remarkable resilience under pressure.
"There were times in the match where I wasn't going to have much say; she was going to take that strike on the first ball, but once I was able to get my slice backhand in and dink around a few I was able to get into more points," Barty said.
"I probably should have closed out that first set, but I knew if I could hang around long enough I'd give myself an opportunity.
"I'm very happy to be through and have another chance on Thursday."