MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian top seed Ash Barty said she was proud of her indigenous heritage but deflected questions about a contentious national holiday after advancing to the Australian Open quarter-finals on Sunday.
The Queensland-born Barty delighted the crowd on Rod Laver Arena when she mounted a comeback from a set down to beat American Alison Riske 6-3 1-6 6-4 on Australia Day, which marks the 1788 arrival of British ships to the continent.
Many indigenous Australians have called for the holiday to be abolished, regarding it as “Invasion Day” or the start of white settlement.
“I’m an extremely proud indigenous woman. It’s not for me to decide what day Australia Day is on,” Barty told reporters.
“I am extremely proud of my heritage. That’s going to remain the same every single day of every single year for the rest of my life. It doesn’t really matter what day it is.
“Every single day I want to be kind, I want to be honest, I want to be humble, I want to give the best that I can. That’s all that matters for me.”
Barty is seen as the country’s best hope to end its long wait for a first home-grown women’s champion since Chris O’Neil won the tournament in 1978.
Her win over 18th seed Riske came a day after she was named Young Australian of the Year to honor her rise to the number one ranking and French Open win last year.
“It’s just amazing. It’s a privilege, it’s an honor, and extremely humbling,” Barty said.
Backed by numerous supporters chanting “Come on Barty, let’s go party!”, the Australian cruised through her first set against Riske but struggled to deal with gusty conditions in the second, allowing the American to level the match at one set all.
The deciding set was a tighter affair as Riske fought back from a break down but was unable to keep up her standards on serve, double-faulting on match point to seal the victory for Barty.
“It was just about adapting and trying to work through it as best as you can,” Barty said.
“It was important to try and hold and stay and fight for every point from the end where you were against the wind, and make the most of it when you were with the wind.”
Barty will next take on Czech seventh seed Petra Kvitova, who defeated the Australian in the same round last year before losing to Naomi Osaka in the final.
Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Frances Kerry and Clare Fallon