It was a bittersweet moment for Ash Barty, whose brilliant Australian summer campaign following almost a year away from tennis ended in an unexpected Australian Open quarterfinal loss to Karolina Muchova on Wednesday.
Barty was unbeaten in eight matches so far this season, winning the WTA Yarra Valley Classic on the eve of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.
The high level she attained so quickly was impressive, and dismissed concerns there might be rust in her game after having not played competitively since last February last year.
She also advanced to the AO2021 quarterfinals without dropping a set.
But from a set and a break up against Muchova, unforced errors crept into her game, and the Czech rebounded to win 1-6 6-3 6-2 to reach her first major semifinal.
“It's heartbreaking, of course,” Barty said.
“But will it deter me, will it ruin the fact we've had a really successful start to our season? Absolutely not.
“The sun will come up tomorrow. We go about our work again. You're either winning or you're learning. I think today is a massive learning curve for me.”
The talking point of the match was the medical timeout Muchova took as a result of dizziness when trailing 6-1 2-1. After returning to the court following a near 10-minute break in play, she was a player transformed.
Meanwhile, Barty, in her own words, “lost her way”.
“I felt like I was in control of the match,” said the world No.1, who sprayed 30 unforced errors following the timeout, compared with just seven prior to it.
“I'm just disappointed with the fact that I wasn't able to bring the match back on my terms after she took that break. I felt like I had small windows of opportunity probably midway through the second set and wasn't able to regroup enough to be clear in the third set how I wanted to play.
“I've played a lot of matches where there have been medical timeouts. I've taken medical timeouts myself before, so that shouldn't be a massive turning point in the match.
“I was disappointed that I let that become a turning point. I'm experienced enough now to be able to deal with that.”
Barty, an astute tennis brain, described the feeling of struggling with her range, pressing too much, and not constructing points in the way she wanted, something that wasn't a problem through a masterful first set.
According to the top seed, she then overcompensated by reining in her play too much.
Barty, appearing in her third consecutive AO quarterfinal, was bidding to reach back-to-back semis. That would have put her one win away from becoming the first local woman to progress to an AO singles final in 41 years.
While acknowledging her disappointment, the 24-year-old could nevertheless see positive aspects in what has been an impactful return to tennis.
“Tough one today, without a doubt. I would have loved to have done a little bit better,” she admitted.
“We'll go back to work and keep trying to grow for tomorrow.
“Being back on the tour has been fantastic. I've loved every second, even though at times it is frustrating. That's the name of the game. That's the sport that we play.
“I think we celebrate as a team the way that we've been able to come back into the sport and really play well."