Barty crashes out in Brisbane
THE triumphant homecoming hoped for by Ash Barty became a sobering lesson about life in the brighter glare of Australian tennis scrutiny.
Tension was etched on world No.17 Barty's face throughout a deflating 6-3, 6-2 loss to a nerveless Lesia Tsurenko, an experienced Ukrainian 25 places lower on the rankings.
Barty said in the weeks before the Brisbane International which starts her road to the Australian Open that she believed she was ready to "embrace'' the extra attention which came with her success last year.
The 21-year-old Queenslander's groundstrokes lacked the punch and precision of her rousing wins in the United States and Asia in the second half of the season.
Playing her first match in Australia since her strong finish last season, Barty's exit was also a bad result for tournament organisers needing a long run by an Australian in an event robbed of Rafael Nadal's star power.
Even five months ago, a loss for Barty to the world No.42 would not have raised one eyebrow as she was ranked in the forties herself.
But she raised the bar by wins over three of last year's grand slam finalists to become the first Australian woman other than Sam Stosur this decade to make the top-20.
The Ipswich right-hander will learn from the experience.
"I didn't work so hard last year and in the off-season to spit the dummy after one match,'' Barty said.
"Tonight for me the polish wasn't there and (against) any players in the top 50 when you're not playing your best they are going to punish you.
"It wasn't what I envisaged for tonight, my first tournament of the year.
"I love playing here and wish I could have done better. I approach every match the same, whether I'm at home here in Brisbane or playing in the middle of nowhere.''
"I'll move on to doubles with Casey (Dellacqua in Brisbane) and then move on to Sydney.
She and the experienced coach Craig Tyzzer will discern the extent to which she was inhibited by the occasion and how much was due to early-season nerves or lack of recent match play.
It should be said that Tsurenko played exceptionally well and the match also enhanced the perception that Barty's is a scalp now worth having, with opponents and their coaches doing their homework more carefully and with greater information.
Tsurenko, 28, won the first set with her fifth ace, while the local favourite put only 45 per cent of first serves into play in it.
Tyzzer was called to her chair after the first set and talked to her about returning strategies, finishing with a very Australian "come on mate, you can do it''.
But she was broken in the first game of the second set with a double-fault on the last point and was broken a second time in the set.
Barty will play the Sydney International for the first time next week, another new experience for her. Her ranking was not high enough to previous years to get her direct entry or a wildcard into it.
Then she will be seeded for the Australian Open for the first time.