Barty wary of 'extremely dangerous' Gauff in Italian Open quarters
Australia's Ashleigh Barty returns a shot to Russia's Veronika Kudermetova during their match of the Women's Italian Open at Foro Italico on May 13, 2021 in Rome. AFP
World number one Ashleigh Barty conceded she was braced for a tough battle with "extremely dangerous" US teenager Coco Gauff after both advanced to a last-eight showdown at the Italian Open on Thursday.
The top-seeded Australian won 6-3, 6-3 against Russian Veronika Kudermetova in the third round to set up a clash with 17-year-old Gauff who earlier ousted Madrid Open winner Aryna Sabalenka.
Sabalenka shocked Barty in last weekend's Madrid final and the 25-year-old conceded she was wary of her first meeting with Gauff as she warms up for the French Open, which she won in her last appearance at Roland Garros in 2019.
"Coco has shown that she loves to bring her best tennis against the players that challenge her the most," said Barty. "She's extremely dangerous. She's played an exceptional tournament thus far. She's got the ability to take the game on. She's aggressive. She can run. She can trust her legs. I think it's going to be a new challenge, a clean slate for both of us. There will be a period in the match where we're trying to figure each other out a little bit. It's certainly going to be a new one, but an exciting match no doubt."
Gauff, ranked 35th, reached her fourth quarter-final of the year with a 7-5, 6-3 win over world number four Sabalenka.
"It will be great to see where my level is," said Gauff of playing Barty. "I mean, she's the number one player in the world. I have no pressure on me. I'm just going to go out there and see what I can do and try my best."
Six of the WTA's top 10 players have already exited the Foro Italico, including second seed Naomi Osaka, four-time Rome winner Serena Williams, Sofia Kenin and Petra Kvitova.
Defending champion Simona Halep, the third seed, was forced to pull out with a calf injury in her second-round match. "Hopefully I can continue that momentum into Paris," said Gauff, looking ahead to the start of the French Open on May 30. "Obviously I want to keep going and keep going further. I'm not going to be satisfied until I reach my goal," added Gauff, who became the youngest WTA title winner since 2004 two years ago in Linz. "Especially during that time, people were saying, 'It's a fluke, it will never happen again'. I think I've proved all those people wrong. I'm going to continue to prove them wrong."