Grateful Barty rested and ready to fire

  • Dan Imhoff

Ashleigh Barty gritting her teeth, fist-pumping from the stands while juggling a beer is one of the endearing off-court images in sport from a Covid-stifled 2020.

It came during Barty’s extended stint back home in Brisbane, having drawn a line through her season – including her French Open title defence – as the pandemic worsened abroad.

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The fist pump was reserved for her beloved Richmond Tigers during their premiership run in Brisbane – a scene usually played out in front of a patchy live stream or, at best, a television while on the road abroad.

Barty relished the chance to cheer on her team live with family and friends.

The cherry on top came when she presented the premiership cup at the Gabba last October.

The Tigers’ run only fuelled Barty’s competitive fires to return to professional competition on home soil.
 

“Overall I'm a competitive person. I bring competition into my training, into my hobbies. Certainly watching the Tigers from a fan's perspective was incredible,” Barty said.

“I never thought I'd see the day where there would be a grand final at the Gabba, that I'd be home to watch it and the Tigers were in it, as well. The stars aligned for me in a fan's perspective with football.

“It was nice to be home. I felt like I got to do a lot of things last year that I don't get to do while I'm travelling, so I certainly had to enjoy that and take the silver lining from the cards that were dealt.”

No stranger to a prolonged stretch out of competition, having stepped away from the sport before, Barty found few parallels between the two spells.

One was of her own volition, the other amid a global health crisis.

“I think very different circumstances … this break was forced in a way,” she said. “Obviously it was still the decision of myself and my team for us not to have played last year for an extended period, but very different circumstances to my previous time when I had a lengthy delay.

“I've been kind of a little bit impatient the last two or three months knowing that the summer was coming, the summer was coming, getting excited to start and play again. Obviously I love playing in Australia. Personally I'm really grateful and excited for the opportunity again to play here.”

For the second straight year, Barty heads into her home Grand Slam as the top seed.

Despite having elected to skip the French and US Opens, Barty was able to protect her standing at No.1 after the WTA allowed players to count their best result in either 2019 or 2020 towards their ranking as a result of the pandemic.

While Barty typically debuts her season before her home crowd on Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane, 2021 presents a unique lead-in experience with all Summer Series events staged at Melbourne Park.

The Queenslander managed an exhibition match against Simona Halep last week. It was a taste of the crowds she expected would again build at Melbourne Park should restrictions and another run to the pointy end of the draw allow.

“Obviously with the lesser crowds, less people around the courts, just generally moving around the site is a little bit easier,” Barty said. “But it's a definite adjustment. I know come deeper into the tournament, into the Australian Open, the crowds will be here to the capacity they're allowed without a doubt.

“So I think it's going to be a really nice vibe once people start rolling in.”

The teeth gritting and fist pumps from Barty are shifting back from the stands of the Gabba to the heat of battle on court at Melbourne Park. 

Just don’t expect the reigning No.1 to buy into any extra expectations this time round.

“Not my own. Maybe from you guys,” she grinned at media. “But that's on you, that's not on me.”