Home » ‘That could be me’: The Australian talent following in Ash Barty’s footsteps

‘That could be me’: The Australian talent following in Ash Barty’s footsteps

Saville poked her head back inside the WTA’s top 100 this week for the first time in 12 months since returning from a second ACL rupture, while fellow 30-year-old Tomljanovic – whose 2023 season was ruined by her own serious knee injury – is back practising but yet to return from uterine surgery in February.

Preston, now 18, headlines the next wave of women’s players in Australia, a promising group that includes Olivia Gadecki, 21, Talia Gibson, 19, Maya Joint, 17, Melisa Ercan, 18, Roisin Gilheany, 18, and Emerson Jones, 15.

Taylah Preston (middle, second row) with Billie Jean King Cup Australian captain Sam Stosur (bottom left) and her teammates in Brisbane.Credit: Getty Images

Preston has scorched up the WTA singles rankings to No.136 after missing the 2023 Australian summer with a disc-related back injury that kept her off tour until April last year.

The one-time top-10 junior and Dyer were deliberately cautious with her recovery.

The period since includes Preston winning four ITF titles last year – three of them in a six-tournament binge in Perth, Cairns then Brisbane – before almost beating French star Caroline Garcia in the lead-up to this year’s Australian Open, where she was not disgraced in her main draw debut against Elina Svitolina.

Better was to come: Preston reached her maiden WTA 125 final in Mexico in late February, then backed up a day or so later in a WTA 500 as a wildcard in San Diego to claim her first top-50 scalp, against Magdalena Frech.

It took red-hot Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk to stop her in a competitive clash in the second round.

“There was the disappointment of losing the final in Mexico, to a bit over 24 hours later [after a] flight to San Diego, getting on court and playing a match [against Frech],” said Dyer, who began working with Preston at Greenwood Tennis Club when she was eight.

“Leading up to that, she was like, ‘Come on, Brad, let’s get on the court and do some work, and get used to these courts and balls’. It’s led by me, but she drives that want to get out there and get better and [in those circumstances, it is] not easy to do.

“I certainly couldn’t do it, but for an 18-year-old to want to do that and get better from the disappointment of losing her first WTA final 24 hours earlier .… was pretty impressive.”

Preston’s professionalism is also a big part of what endeared her to Australia’s BJK Cup captain Sam Stosur, a former world No.4 who famously beat Serena Williams in the 2011 US Open final.

Another appealing feature of Preston’s arsenal is her aggressive playing style, which she persevered with from a young age, with a big-picture view, even while struggling at times against moon-ballers and grinders in juniors.

“She’s not trying to be a runner, or a counter-puncher, and wait for someone else to hand her the match – she’s going out to win,” Stosur said.

“She wants to play on her terms and dictate from the baseline, and kind of be like, ‘All right, well, this is what I’ve got; see if you can match it type thing’.

“The early and promising signs are that she’s crept up relatively quickly, and that win against Frech is a big stepping stone for her. I like her professionalism, and she seems to have a real desire to be a player. I feel like she turns up every day wanting to get better.”

WTA types are taking notice, too, inviting Preston to Indian Wells last month, alongside other up-and-comers on the cusp of breaking through, for what was effectively a how-to guide to playing on tour.

There, the Australian young gun also fit in hitting sessions with 16th-ranked Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova and 16-year-old sensation Mirra Andreeva, who she once partnered in doubles in juniors.

Loading

“It would be amazing to make the top 100 by the end of the year, but for now, it’s about getting top 120, then top 110,” Preston said.

“Down the track, it’s definitely a goal of mine to be top 20, top 10 – and I think my game can get me there – but there are lots of improvements that need to be made. I feel like I have time on my side, which is always a positive, and I’m trying to keep it one step at a time because everything’s very new.

“I don’t feel any expectation. Of course, I see some things on Instagram or the internet, and you realise people are talking [about me], but I try not to pay much attention to that. It’s more the pressure that I put on myself.”

News, results and expert analysis from the weekend of sport sent every Monday. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.