Less is more for improving Barty in New York

 - Simon Cambers

Roland Garros champion hitting top form after timely break

Ashleigh Barty serving in the light during her third round match at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Ash Barty does things differently to most people. When she lost in the third round at Wimbledon last month, she decided she needed a rest, after a three-month spell on the road that included her first grand slam title, won so gloriously at Roland Garros in June.

And so, while others got back on the tournament cycle, she put the rackets away, gave herself time to recover, mentally and physically, knowing that time off then would pay dividends in the long run.

Ashleigh Barty volleying during her third round match at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“Have a chance to recover both mentally and physically“

At the US Open on Friday, the Australian eased into the fourth round for the second year in a row, her 7-5, 6-3 win over Maria Sakkari, the No 30 seed from Greece, setting up a last-16 clash with Qiang Wang, the No 18 seed from China. With each round, Barty has looked more and more at home.

“I had two weeks off completely after Wimbledon knowing I would probably come into Toronto and Cincinnati a little bit underdone,” said Barty, who has yet to make it to a quarter-final at Flushing Meadows. 

“But it was more important that I rest and give myself a chance to recover both mentally and physically, then knowing we still had enough time to kind of be ready for this week here in New York.

“(It was about the) bigger picture, knowing we had those two weeks off of resting and recovering, just really enjoying time with my family. That European stint for us Aussies is a tough one. We're away for three months. There's no real opportunity to head back home in between the two slams. I feel like every day I've been getting better and better. I still feel great. There's a few big months left in the season. We're looking forward to it.”

Removing the temptation

Having lost her No 1 ranking a few weeks after Wimbledon, Barty is in pole position to regain it, though current No 1 and defending US Open champion Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova could yet come out on top depending on results at Flushing Meadows.

Barty used her whole box of tricks to get the better of Sakkari for the third time this year and fourth time in their five meetings, mixing up the pace and spins and never allowing the Greek to feel comfortable.

In her time off, Barty said her rackets were out of arms’ reach, removing the temptation to swing them around the house.

“God, no,” she said, when asked if she’d played a bit of shadow tennis. “I picked up a racquet that had been strung at Wimbledon. It had been I think 17 days since it had been strung. I was like, that will do, I'll just use it. Should be right. They're away, locked away for good.”

Ashleigh Barty focused during the 2019 US Open

“Not going to take two or three extra weeks“

Some players might think taking time off in the middle of the season would interrupt their flow, affect their momentum, but in her first three rounds in New York, Barty has looked focused and seems to be improving.

“I certainly don't hesitate in taking a week off,” she said. “I do it often throughout the year, just complete racquets down, don't kind of chat to my team. I just go and refresh and get away from everyone. I know when I come back, I'll be better for it.

“Yes, it may take two or three extra days (to find top form again), but it's not going to take two or three extra weeks, so it's not something I have to stress about.”

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Should Barty get past Wang in the fourth round on Sunday, she is likely to play the 23-times grand slam champion Serena Williams but the Australian is focused only on Wang, a player who has pushed her to three sets in each of their two previous meetings.

“She’s a very tough competitor, moves extremely well,” Barty said. “When the ball is in her strike zone, she can go both ways, cross and line off both wings. I think it's going to be an incredibly physical match, a match where I need to make sure that I serve well and bring variety in as much as I can.”