Barty secures year-end No.1 spot

 - Reem Abulleil

The Australian built on her breakthrough in Paris to conclude the season at the top of the rankings.

Ashleigh Barty smiling with her trophy at Roland-Garros 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Reigning Roland-Garros champion Ashleigh Barty spent most of 2019 pulling off one history-making feat after the other and apparently she’s not done yet; even though we’re just days away from bidding farewell to the WTA season.

The 23-year-old, who is making her WTA Finals singles debut in Shenzhen this week, secured the year-end No.1 spot on Tuesday to become the first-ever Australian woman to conclude a season at the summit of the rankings.

“It's pretty neat. It's been an incredible year, it really has. I think it's a bit of a bonus to be able to finish year-end world No. 1. It certainly wasn't something that was in my realm at the start of the year,” Barty told reporters at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center this week.

Key moment in Paris

Five months ago, on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, Barty looked on her way to a straight-sets defeat to the then 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova in the Roland-Garros semi-finals.

Barty had squandered a 5-1 lead in the opening set before losing it in a tiebreak then trailed Anisimova 0-3 in the second. She somehow turned the tables and squeezed through in three to reach her first Grand Slam final, and two days later, became Australia’s first Roland-Garros champion since 1973.

Her coach, Craig Tyzzer, looks back at that roller coaster semi-final and sees it as a seminal moment in his charge’s year.  

“I think the semi was the big one for me,” Tyzzer said in Shenzhen, reflecting on Barty’s tremendous 2019.

“It was such a turning point to see her – in the past I think that was definitely going to be a loss. For her to be able to turn that around, she basically did that herself. I don't think her opponent changed anything. I think she just played well the whole time.

“Ash really was the difference. For her to come through that and then play so well that she did in the final I think was a massive turning point for the year for her. Without that semi-final, she probably doesn't get to No. 1. I think it was huge.”

Craig Tyzzer and Ashleigh Barty posing with the 2019 Roland-Garros trophy.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Bringing the Barty brand to the clay

Clay had never been Barty’s favourite surface, who famously joked last year in Charleston and said: “Every week we're on the clay is a week we're closer to the grass.”

So it’s understandable that neither Barty, nor Tyzzer, expected her to walk away with the trophy in Paris this year.

But consistency across the season had been a main goal for the Queenslander since the start of the season and she was determined to give it her all on the red dirt during the spring. Her confidence was already boosted after making her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final on home soil in Australia and hoisting her first Premier Mandatory trophy in Miami.

It was in Madrid, just two weeks prior to the start of Roland-Garros, that Barty felt like she unlocked something within herself on clay.

“The match in the quarter-final against Sim (Simona Halep) I felt was a little bit of a turning point,” Barty revealed to WTA Insider.

“Even though I lost the match, it was five and five, had a lot of opportunities and felt like I was more than in it against the best clay-courter in women's tennis at the moment.

“So I think for me that match was a little bit of an eye-opener, knowing that I could hang with the best.

“Then moving into Paris, it was about just trying to stay fresh and in the end still play that kind of aggressive mindset and play my brand of tennis and not get stuck into a clay-court brand that I'm not overly familiar with or comfortable with. So it was important for me to still play my style of tennis and that Ash Barty brand of tennis, seeing as it can work on a clay court. I think it was about finding that balance.”  

Ashleigh Barty slicing a backhand during Roland-Garros 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Finding consistency

Indeed, Barty managed to bring her crafty and versatile game to Paris, and continued to showcase it throughout the year, adding a third title to her tally on the grass of Birmingham, and reaching another Premier mandatory final, this time in Beijing, where she fell to Naomi Osaka.

The top-ranked Barty is the only player to reach the last-16 or better in all eight Grand Slams and Premier Mandatory tournaments this year and is just the second, alongside Karolina Pliskova, to grab titles on all three surfaces in 2019.

She has come back from a set down on 11 different occasions this season, and has recorded an impressive 18-5 win-loss mark in three-set matches. She’s come out victorious in 53 clashes – the second-highest tally behind Kiki Bertens in 2019 – nine of which were top-10 scalps.

“It's been an incredibly consistent year across all surfaces, across all continents in the world. I feel like we've played an exceptional level of tennis,” she said in Shenzhen, never forgetting to reference her team by choosing the word ‘we’ any chance she gets.

Ashleigh Barty waving at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Incredible comeback

And to think that a mere three and a half years ago, Barty was just making her comeback to tennis after a 21-month hiatus that saw her pursue a professional career in cricket.

“I think I'm just extremely proud of myself and for my team because we've put so much hard work into this. It's been a journey not only this year, but probably over the last four or five years, having stepped away from the game and then coming back and making a few of the tougher decisions,” she told WTA Insider.

“But I think I have no regrets. We've worked so hard to try and get to this point and the stars have aligned for us this year. I think overall, we've enjoyed every minute, the ups and the downs and all that comes with it.”