Brilliant Barty prepares for AO 2020 homecoming
Brilliant Barty prepares for AO 2020 homecoming
Few players in recent years have shown as impressive an ability as Ash Barty to block out external noise and focus simply on the racquet, the ball, and the lines of the tennis court.
And for Barty, there has been an increasing volume of noise to block out.
The media, particularly in her home country of Australia, devoted hours and pages to the likeable 23-year-old as her stunning 2019 unfolded.
That season featured four prestigious tournament titles across all surfaces – the biggest coming at Roland Garros – and a rise to world No.1, where she ended the season after earning more than US$11 million in prize money.
After beginning the year at world No.15, Barty is now a reigning major champion and the best female player in the world, with a truckload of awards and accolades, an exploding profile, and as a result, a target on her back.
Her reaction to all of this? Business as usual.
"I don't feel any different myself. I'm still the same Ash Barty that I was three weeks ago. I'm the same Ash Barty I was two years ago,” she said after winning the French Open in June.
"For me, nothing changes. It was really nice to come out now (after Paris) and get back into a normal routine of playing matches again. If anything, it's taken the pressure off. I can just go out and enjoy it. It is an opportunity to try and be better and really go out there and just have fun."
Later in the season, as the year-end No.1 ranking appeared increasingly likely, she added: “I'm not going to change it to try and chase it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. It's not going to change the way I rest or I recover or train and prepare for next year.”
Her commitment to sticking with tried-and-true processes will stand her in good stead come January. Because if she was a big name at Australian Open 2019, that was nothing compared to how prominent she will be in 2020.
Barty will enter the tournament as the first home-grown No.1 seed since Lleyton Hewitt 17 years ago in 2003. She is Australia’s first female world No.1 since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1976. No Australian has won the singles championship in Melbourne since Chris O’Neill did so in 1978.
The first two are lengthy Australian droughts she has broken. The third is one her increasingly large hoard of Aussie fans – and ever-expanding legion of fans globally – hope dearly she ends.
All of this inevitably leads to pressure and expectation. Yet Barty is looking forward to what January might bring. And she knows exactly what she needs to do to be prepared for it.
“Give me a week at home with a few beers on the couch where I can kind of relive what has happened in 2019,” she said after winning the WTA Finals in Shenzhen. “I think it's going to be really nice to be able to sit down, reflect and then refresh and re-gear and get ready to go for a massive 2020.
“For us Australians, we're extremely lucky to be able to start that month in Australia.
“It's going to be a really, really special time in my life.”
The Australian Open represents something of a final frontier for Barty, who has won titles at the other three Grand Slam events.
The first was at Wimbledon in 2011 when she claimed the junior singles title, confirming her status as a star of the future. In 2018, she combined with CoCo Vandeweghe to win the US Open women’s doubles title. And then came her singles breakthrough at the French Open this year.
Barty has proven that success at Melbourne Park is within her grasp. She reached the doubles final with Casey Dellacqua in 2013, and this year beat Maria Sharapova at Rod Laver Arena to advance to her first major quarterfinal in singles.
Playing in Australia has always been a successful experience for Barty, who also made back-to-back Sydney International finals in 2018 and 2019.
She comes into Australian Open 2020 riding a wave of momentum, winning 12 of her 16 matches following the US Open and finishing 2019 with a 12-6 record against top 10 opponents.
She will fancy her chances against whomever she might come up against.
“There are parts of my game that have improved a lot this year. I work on all facets of my game every day whether it's physically off the court, mentally off the court, or tactically when I'm actually on the court, how do I handle the big situations,” Barty said.
“I feel like all of those things have collectively grown this year. They've developed. I've become a better person and a better player.
“I'm still extremely hungry to try and see what the best kind of version of Ash Barty there is and the best I can bring.”
If the best she can bring is an Australian Open title, expect the media and the fan favouritism -- and the noise -- to go to a whole new level.