5 things you need to know about Ashleigh Barty
EPISODE 4/10. In 10 days, 10 players and 10 stories, here are the tales of a fascinating year.
At the start of 2019, Ashleigh Barty told her team her main concern for the clay season was “falling over”. It was a surface she had previously struggled to adapt to and was not too comfortable on.
By the end of her campaign on the red dirt in June, the only time Barty fell to the ground was when she crouched down in disbelief after defeating Marketa Vondrousova in the Roland-Garros final to claim a maiden Grand Slam title.
That fall was totally worth it!
Barty’s celebration, after pulling off that smash on match point to complete a near-flawless 6-1, 6-3 victory over her Czech opponent, was somehow muted. But the raw emotion on her face spoke volumes of what that Roland-Garros triumph meant to her.
It wasn’t just the culmination of two dream weeks in the French capital; it was the result of a three-year journey that started with the Australian’s return from a two-year hiatus – during which she pursued a career in professional cricket – and eventually led her to a first major trophy.
A child prodigy who exploded onto the scene when she won Wimbledon juniors at 15 and reached her first Grand Slam women’s doubles final at 16, Barty walked away from tennis in 2014, citing burn-out and looking to “experience life as a normal teenaged girl and have some normal experiences”.
Sat next to the Roland-Garros trophy on June 8, 2019, Barty was asked if she would have made it this far had she not taken a break from the sport.
“Absolutely not,” she said with zero hesitation. “I don't even know if I'd be sitting here talking to you if I was playing tennis if I didn't step away. It's obviously a part of my life that I needed to deal with, and I feel like it was the best decision that I made at the time, and it was an even better one coming back.”
No one can argue with that!
Barty lives her life as a perpetual learner, constantly seeking improvement in every aspect, both on the court and off of it.
That was on full display in Paris, where she rebounded from a wild three-set semi-final victory over Amanda Anisimova, to produce a “perfect” 70-minute performance against Vondrousova in the title decider the following day.
In tough, rainy conditions on semi-finals day, Barty squandered a 5-0 lead in the opening set, went on to lose the tiebreak, and suddenly found herself trailing the American teen by a set and 0-3. She dug deep to turn things around and reach her first Grand Slam final, and made sure she did not repeat the same mistakes when the stakes got higher.
“Yesterday was an absolute roller coaster. There's no way about it. I think I played some really good tennis and some pretty awful tennis,” admitted Barty, referring to her clash with Anisimova.
“Then today [in the final] I just kept saying to myself, I may never get this opportunity ever again, so try and grab it with both hands. I felt like for me it was the perfect tennis match, considering the situation, the conditions, and kind of all of the above. It was amazing.”
Barty dropped serve just once against Vondrousova, and hit 27 winners during the straight-sets rout. One of the most entertaining players to watch on tour, the Queenslander is proud of her “Ash Barty brand of tennis” – one that involves so much variety, spin and finesse, combined with a powerful serve and high tennis IQ.
In the final, Barty won 15/20 of her net points, and lost just four points in total on her second serve. She finished the 2019 season with the third-most aces (409 in 64 matches) struck on the circuit behind Karolina Pliskova and Kiki Bertens.
“I think she just gave me a lesson today,” the then 19-year-old Vondrousova told reporters after the final. “She's playing too good. She's mixing things up. And she has a huge serve. So it's all, like, very tough to play against. I didn't really feel good today because she didn't let me play my game, and it was really tough.”
Barty is the first Australian since Margaret Court in 1973 to win a Roland-Garros singles crown, and two weeks later, she became the first Australian woman to reach the world No.1 spot since Evonne Goolagong-Cawley in 1976. Barty and Goolagong-Cawley are the only two indigenous Australians to lift Grand Slam trophies, and the 68-year-old legend has long been a huge inspiration for Barty.
But while she admits she would at times stray away from her own style of tennis in attempts to emulate the players she idolised, she was always reminded how important it was for her to stick to her own plan.
“My coach always used to bring me back and say, ‘We're creating our style’. I think that's probably one of the most magical things that's happened to me,” Barty said.
Barty’s Roland-Garros breakthrough ended being just one part of an overall history-making season for the crafty Aussie. She won the grass-court title in Birmingham a couple of weeks later to dethrone Naomi Osaka at the top of the rankings, and finished 2019 as Australia’s first-ever WTA year-end No.1.
She helped carry her nation to the Fed Cup final, and pocketed the biggest paycheck in tennis history when she lifted the trophy at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen.
Barty concluded her year with the most number of match-wins on tour (56), the most victories against top-10 players (12), and the most titles won (tied with Pliskova), scooping four trophies from six finals reached. Barty and Pliskova are the only two players to be crowned champions on every surface in 2019.
“I think a new perspective in my life and in my career, it's brought this new belief, I suppose, and this feeling of belonging at the very top level,” Barty said of how her break from tennis changed her.
“I feel like I'm playing some really good tennis. I know when I play my best tennis, I can match it against the world's best.”