Ash Barty is back in business at Roland Garros following her recent injury scare in the Italian Open – and she’s enlisted the highest-quality practice partner in preparation for her bid to regain her French Open title in Paris.
The world No.1, who prompted widespread concern by retiring in her quarter-final in Rome with Coco Gauff because of an arm problem, enjoyed her second session under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier on Wednesday, hitting with Australian Open champ Naomi Osaka.
Barty, who’d insisted after the Rome withdrawal that she was only doing so as a precaution since she’d had trouble with that particular problem before, initially went through her paces in the ‘indoor’ Chatrier on Monday evening.
It was her first visit to the scene of her sole grand slam triumph back in 2019 and will have been a bit of a culture shock to practice under the roof that wasn’t there when she beat Marketa Vondrousova in the final two years ago.
Since then, teenager Iga Swiatek has usurped her title with Barty deciding to stay at home during pandemic-hit 2020 but the Australian has again shown herself as the player to beat on the clay with an 13-3 record and two titles already on the red stuff this year.
On Wednesday, for a handful of viewers, the sight of the world’s top two players enjoying a two-hour practice session proved a tantalising treat.
Two men were more interested than anyone, with Barty being watched by her trusty coach Craig Tyzzer and Osaka being mentored by Belgian Wim Fissette.
Barty and Osaka have played four times before, sharing two wins apiece, but they’ve never met in anger on the clay before.
Potentially great rivals for the future, both of them gave Paris a miss last year with Osaka also opting not to travel to Europe after her victory in the preceding US Open.
If Barty was to be knocked out before the semi-finals and Osaka went on to win the event, the Japanese would take over as world No.1.