Barty 2019: Coming back stronger

  • Matt Trollope

Ash Barty’s apparent disbelief at winning Roland Garros 2019 perfectly summarised just how unexpected and extraordinary that victory was.

Given where she had been just a few years earlier, the giant leap in progress it represented, and the surface on which the triumph came, Barty’s reaction toward her entourage, after putting away an overhead on match point, instantly made sense.

Her 6-1 6-3 win over Marketa Vondrousova delivered the young Australian her first Grand Slam singles title. Two weeks later, she rose to world No.1.

This marked the culmination of an almost perfectly linear ascent to the top of the game since her professional comeback three years earlier.

Ash Barty poses with a special trophy after officially becoming the WTA world No.1 in June 2019. (Getty Images)

Her arrival at the summit was staggering, because before 2016 Barty was a world away from the tennis tour. In September 2014, then just 18 years old, she was disillusioned and burned-out as she announced her decision to stop competing.

“I don't even know if I'd be sitting here talking to you … if I didn't step away,” Barty said at Roland Garros during her champion’s press conference.

“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.”

Earlier in her career, much had been expected of the richly-talented Queenslander, who had won junior Wimbledon at 15 in 2011 and reached three Grand Slam doubles finals with Casey Dellacqua in 2013. But it was all “too much, too quickly” – she simply wanted to experience normal life.

During her near two-year hiatus, Barty played professional cricket with the Brisbane Heat, did some tennis coaching, and relished the chance to spend time at home without travelling.

It proved refreshing and recharging.

“A big part of my philosophy was always that tennis is a game, and I wanted to enjoy it. For me it turned into a little bit of a slog, and I wasn’t enjoying it quite as much as I would have liked,” she told the New York Times in January 2016. 
 
“So I thought it was the right time for me to step away. Not that it would, but just in case it drove me away from tennis completely.”

Luckily, it did not.

The return

Shortly after that interview, Barty considered a comeback, and returned to competition at some lower-tier doubles events on the Australian Pro Tour. 

She won her very first event – an ITF $25,000 in Perth – with Jess Moore before winning back-to-back 25K titles in Canberra alongside Arina Rodionova.

Her attention then turned to singles.

Despite playing just four singles events in 2016, she immediately made an impact, winning 16 of her 20 matches. Her best result was a quarterfinal at the WTA grass-court tournament in Nottingham, where as a qualifier she pushed top seed and eventual champion Karolina Pliskova to two tiebreaks.

“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.”
Ash Barty

"It's nice to know that straight off the bat I can come in and compete with the best in the world,” she said.

In her first full season back on tour, in 2017, Barty won her first career WTA singles title in Kuala Lumpur and ended the season in the top 20. She backed that up in 2018, consolidating her place inside the top 20 thanks to victory at the season-ending WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai. 

In early 2019 she soared, stunning world No.1 Simona Halep en route to the final in Sydney, then upstaging Maria Sharapova in the fourth round of the Australian Open to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. 

“Had it been two years earlier, a similar match might have gotten away from her,” Todd Woodbridge said of the Sharapova win

“It got tight in that third set – Sharapova came back at her with some great play, and Barty had to absorb it and find another gear. That’s hard to do, especially in front of a parochial crowd which was getting nervous for her, and with her – as a player you feel that. 

“That match, if you were to isolate one from the summer, was an indicator of somebody who has gone to another level.”

Sure enough, just two months later, Barty ripped through an impressive field – scoring top-10 victories over Kiki Bertens, Petra Kvitova and Pliskova – to win the prestigious Miami Open.

That title saw her crack the top 10, and was another significant stepping stone toward ultimate Grand Slam success in Paris.

“It’s about creating your own path, creating your own journey, and embracing it,” Barty said following her French Open fairytale.

“For the last fortnight, the stars have aligned for me.

“A Grand Slam title, it’s amazing. It’s something that I’ll have forever now.”