Fresh swipe in Barty, Serena storm
Sam Groth has doubled down on his criticism of Serena Williams, saying he has no regrets over calling her Ash Barty oversight an "absolute disgrace".
The retired Aussie tennis star, who had a career-high singles ranking of 53, blasted Williams for not knowing Barty was the world No. 1 entering Wimbledon, after the topic came up in a pre-tournament press conference last weekend.
"Wow, that's great," Williams said when told the news. "I think Ash, I don't know anyone that has anything negative to say about her. She's like the sweetest, cutest girl on tour. She's so nice.
"Obviously I'm happy for her. Yeah, it's good. It's good for her."
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Groth couldn't believe a player with Williams' profile didn't know who the best player on the WTA Tour was and in a column for the Herald Sun, slammed the American's ignorance as "pretty s***ty" and said her focus on Barty's personality rather than her tennis was a slap in the face.
Groth stood by his stunning attack on Channel 9's Sports Sunday.
"If you're one of the greatest sportspeople of your time, man or woman, this is 100 per cent my opinion and I'll stand by it, if you're an icon of the sport and you have the chance to pump up the future of the sport, the world No. 1 - whether Serena knew or not, that reaction (is not on)," Groth said.
"And to call Ash 'nice' and 'cute', she had the chance to say Ash was a fantastic tennis player, she's a great person for the sport, but she didn't.
"She called her 'nice' and 'cute' and didn't acknowledge she was the best player in the world and I thought that was, honestly, pretty condescending."
Fellow Sports Sunday panellist, former Australian netball star Catherine Cox, sided with Groth after seeing vision of Williams' response.
"After seeing that footage I 100 per cent agree with you. 'Obviously I'm really happy for her', without a smile on her face. Is anyone believing that?" Cox said.
Although Groth said Williams should have put more focus on Barty's skill set, the world No. 10 did reference the Aussie's on-court qualities in the same press conference, saying: "She has the most beautiful game, such classic shots. I mean, she does everything right. Her technique is, like, flawless."
When told of Groth's initial comments during week one at Wimbledon, Williams was surprised by the criticism.
"I don't even know what he's talking about," she said. "I'm happy she's No. 1. I don't know anyone that isn't.
"She's such a sweet person. I don't know. I think she's just the one person in the locker room that everyone roots for, including me."
Barty said she hadn't seen Groth's comments but gave an explanation for why Williams missed her rise to the top, declining to criticise the tennis icon.
"Serena hasn't been at many of the tournaments lately so it's not really something that I worry about," Barty said.
If Williams and Barty both win their next matches at the All England Club they will meet in a blockbuster quarter-final clash. Barty is aiming to win back-to-back grand slams after securing her maiden major singles crown at last month's French Open, while Williams is shooting for grand slam title No. 24.
After her third round 6-3 6-4 win over Julia Goerges, the 37-year-old said she's been keeping a close eye on Barty ahead of their potential match-up.
"I've seen her play a lot recently, too. From the day I played her in Australia I had a tremendous amount of respect for her game," Williams said.
"I just thought she's just a beautiful player. She has great technique. I love that. I'm really a technical player. I like when people, you know, have a beautiful game and they do the right techniques. It's so right up my alley.
"Like I always say, she's just someone in the locker room that you just always root for. But in general I have been watching her game because I know that she's a force to be reckoned with. Yeah, so I've been watching a lot."
Barty wasn't looking as far ahead as the quarters, saying she would focus first on getting past Alison Riske in the fourth round before wondering how to tackle the challenge Williams presents.
The Queenslander's 6-1 6-1 thrashing of British wildcard Harriet Dart on Saturday marked her first appearance on Wimbledon's Centre Court after being overlooked for the main stage in the opening two rounds. Having had a taste of what it's like to play on the most iconic arena in tennis, Barty said the experience would help her if she makes it deeper into the second week.
"Any time you can play on a court, you get a taste of what the conditions are like. But they can change day-to-day," Barty said.
"I think having played on that court now, I know what it's like. But it's not too dissimilar to what I expected from a pace of court and things like that.
"But obviously the surroundings are a little bit different. Now having a taste of that, it's nice to know what it's like."
Barty's rise to the top of the rankings has won over plenty of fans in Australia, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison .