Ash Barty could look on the bright side after exiting the Australian Open.
Ash Barty could look on the bright side after exiting the Australian Open.

Barty accused of using baby as a ‘human shield’

ASH Barty rides speed bumps better than anyone in tennis, but some commentators have questioned her upbeat attitude after her latest loss and criticised the 23-year-old's decision to bring her 11-week-old niece into a post-match press conference.

The world No.1, who lost in straight sets to 14th seed Sofia Kenin in their Australian Open semi-final on Thursday, wasn't dwelling on the negatives of missing out on becoming the first homegrown star to qualify for a final at Melbourne Park since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005.

"It's been a hell of a summer," Barty said after falling short against Kenin.

"I mean, if you would have told me three weeks ago that we would have won a tournament in Adelaide, made the semi-finals of the Australian Open, I'd take that absolutely every single day of the week.

"I've learnt from all of the experiences that I've kind of been thrown into. I've loved every minute."

Always a glass-half-full kind of athlete, Barty fronted reporters with baby Olivia, her sister's daughter, on her lap.

"This is what life is all about. It's amazing," Barty said.

But while some tennis fans were touched by the gesture, others criticised it for being inappropriate in a place of work.

BBC tennis commentator David Law was among those who thought Barty should have been the only member of her family to front the media pack after her shock loss.

"I don't think the baby should have been in there," Law said on The Tennis Podcast.

"I think it is a place of work. It's an office space. We are there to ask questions and, as lovely a sight as it was on one hand, it's not really what's supposed to go on."

On the same podcast, tennis analyst Matt Roberts said using her nice "felt like a deflection" and a "prop" to avoid being asked tough questions, given Barty had just lost a match she was expected to win.

Ash Barty was still smiling as she faced journalists with her young niece.
Ash Barty was still smiling as she faced journalists with her young niece.

Sports broadcaster Catherine Whitaker agreed, joking the baby acted as a "human shield" so Barty could escape a grilling from the media.

However, Whitaker also said it was unlikely to be a calculated ploy from the down-to-earth tennis star, who has established herself as one of Australia's most popular athletes as much for how she carries herself off the court as the way she plays on it.

"I don't necessarily think it has to be a conscious thought and I think she can have had that thought process in a less sinister way than perhaps we would see it," Whitaker said.

"She just thinks, 'This is a distraction for me' - but the thing is, it's also a distraction for everybody else and not very helpful.

"It's not appropriate in the workplace. I don't think that makes her a terrible person for doing it - somebody should have stopped her doing it, probably.

"I don't know what the circumstances are but it was really weird."

By maintaining a smile - at least publicly - after her loss, Barty showed once again she has a balanced perspective by refusing to allow one result to affect her mood or outlook on life.

Law and Roberts said it was "healthy", but Whitaker would have preferred to see more visible heartbreak from the top seed.

"Is there such a thing as too much perspective? I mean, it's OK to be gutted for a bit," Whitaker said.

Roberts added: "She didn't seem gutted in her rather bizarre press conference."

The podcast trio discussed whether Barty was perhaps hurting more than she was prepared to let on, but a tweet on Thursday night suggested the Aussie was in high spirits after what, in her eyes, was a successful home summer.



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