Osaka declares Barty a Grand Slam threat
US Open champion Naomi Osaka says she counts Ash Barty among the Grand Slam title contenders next year.
Osaka last summer served notice for her rankings progress in 2018, in which she has sped from No.68 to No.5, when she overpowered Barty in straight sets in what was an upset on the rankings in their Australian Open third round match.
The 21-year-old Japanese, who has given herself at least seven days training in Brisbane by arriving on Christmas Eve, was one of three first-time female Grand Slam champions this year.
Osaka is seeded second for the Brisbane International, which she last played as an 18-year-old qualifier, starting on Monday (31/12).
Barty, 22, is ranked No.15, 10 places behind Osaka, who was rated by Chris Evert after the US Open win as the "leader'' of the next generation of women's tennis.
"I think definitely (she can win a major). She is one of the most talented people I have ever played against,'' Osaka said.
"Last year we played twice and it was split even. I think everyone has their chances and she won at the end of the year in Zhuhai (WTA Elite Trophy). It was very impressive.
"She definitely has a lot going for her. I'd be really happy if she did win one because she's one of the nicest people on the tour.''
Barty beat Osaka in June in the semi-finals of the WTA Nottingham event on grass, the first of the Queenslander's two tournaments titles for the year.
The first Japanese winner of a major singles title won the same number of tour titles in 2018, two, taking out the big Indian Wells tournament before her brilliant US Open run.
"It's my first tournament of the year and I am just hoping I play a lot of matches,'' Osaka said.
"If that leads to me winning I'd be happy about that.
"I don't want to say I don't care what other think. I don't put other people's expectations on myself. I put my expectations on myself.''
Florida-based Osaka said she likes playing in hot weather and is giving herself every chance to withstand the demons of an Australian summer by training for a full week in the Brisbane humidity.
Osaka said she sided with Australian Open organisers who have ordered a best-of-10 point tie-break to decide final sets which reach six games all at next month's event.
"I'm definitely fine with it. I am not too sure about other players,'' she said.
"I didn't even know they were doing that with continuing games (at 6-all) because I'd never played that long.''
World No.1 Simona Halep fell short in the 2018 Australian Open final after a punishing 15-13 deciding-set margin over American Lauren Davis in the third round.