Woodbridge: Barty’s extraordinary return

Published by Todd Woodbridge

Ash Barty has impressed since returning to tennis after a brief break from the sport. Photo: Getty Images
Ash Barty’s win over Venus Williams was just the latest chapter in an extraordinary comeback for the 21 year-old Australian.

Ash Barty’s win over Venus Williams is the type of result that will make her truly believe that she belongs in the top echelon of women’s tennis. It has been an extraordinary rise for Ash since returning to professional tennis. Now she’s at the point where she can turn up to an event and say: ‘if I play my best I’ve got a chance to go deep’.

When we think about her development, it provides a great lesson to everyone in tennis.

It showcases that there isn’t one singular pathway, and that we need to develop an emotional awareness of what teenage athletes are going through. Coaches, parents and programs need to have empathy and listen to their children to take care of them as athletes.

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In Ash’s case, she has always been a prodigious talent. But as she reflected in the early phase of her career, winning junior Wimbledon at 15 was a burden to her. She wasn’t emotionally prepared to be able to handle what came with that – the expectation placed on her to rise up the rankings quickly. That can be particularly difficult for young athletes.

Her family have played a crucial role in this. They have always been incredibly supportive, but they never forced Ash to become a tennis player. In some ways, she has been fortunate that her father has been able to teach her from his own experiences. He was Australia’s amateur golfing champion and had a lot of accolades put on him. By his own words, he didn’t really enjoy that experience. Because of that he was able to help Ash through the process.

A lot of us – myself included – weren’t 100% sure that she would be able to bounce back after leaving the game for a period of time. But what that break did was reinforce to her how much she enjoyed playing tennis, what a privilege it is, and what she can get out of that career. This second time around she has come back far more positive, more mature as a young woman, able to handle and cope with everything – including the exposure that an elite athlete can face.

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The question now is how far can she go? For some time I have said that she is the best doubles player on the women’s circuit and has the ability to win multiple Grand Slam titles. She has a great skill set: she has one of the best slice backhands in the women’s game; she volleys as well as any player in the world; tactically she has very good awareness. The next phases of her development will come with building power, speed and agility – they are the areas she needs to work on as she does not have the height or physicality of some of the other women. She will need to develop those attributes in a similar way to a player like Justine Henin if she is going to crack the top ten.

But in terms of watchability she rates among the top ten players in the world.

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