In the context of Australian tennis, the ascent of Ash Barty into the top 10 is one of the greatest results the nation has had in the last 20 to 30 years, a milestone she capped beautifully with her run to the Miami Open title at the weekend.
Sam Stosur was the last Aussie to crack the top 10; Lleyton Hewitt was the last man to do it since Pat Rafter and Mark Philippoussis in the 1990s.
Barty’s achievement is one of the great female performances, not just in Australian tennis, but in Australian sport. And it’s not finished yet – this is just a consistent rise. With her self-belief, she’s on the road to now go deep at majors. And she has shown there isn’t a player she can’t beat.
Ash Barty’s Road to the @MiamiOpen title:
Three Top 10 wins, now 5-3 vs. Top 10, 2-0 vs. Top 5 in 2019. pic.twitter.com/mAaoW4jsuA
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 30, 2019
Barty’s rise comes at a time of transition in the women’s game. Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova are at the end of their careers, and the current group of younger women are not as physically dominant as those athletes were. That’s in Ash’s favour. Yes, the current top players are good ball strikers, but they’re not as tall nor as dominant on serve, and that means Ash may not be overpowered on the big occasion by such an athlete.
Barty will nevertheless always have to cope with the physical difference between her and some of the bigger, taller players on tour. But her skills are the best currently on the WTA tour.
— Todd Woodbridge (@toddwoodbridge) March 31, 2019
She has reached this position in the game because there’s been an improvement in her serve; the serving stats show she’s improved the pace and the amount of free points she wins. She has also learned, more than most other women on tour, to use her forehand with heavy spin. As well as that spin, she’s hitting it harder off the forehand wing, and they are two big keys for her. When the serve and forehand work as weapons, she’s also got one of the best slice backhands the game has seen to be able to break up the play. She also volleys superbly.
Another factor in her rise is a newfound confidence. When she came back after her break from the game, she realised she had great talent, loved the game, and had an opportunity most don’t get in life. She’s become more confident in herself, she feels she belongs, and her body language has changed.
For female athletes, the late teenage years are some of the toughest. She got through those, and since then has been happier and more confident in herself. And that has translated to her tennis.
Over the Australian summer, she looked like she enjoyed playing at home. And it takes a while for a young player to not feel the pressure of that, but instead to use it to their advantage.
There was a moment in her fourth-round win over Sharapova when, had it been two years earlier, a similar match might have gotten away from her. 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. And she did. It was like she was saying: hang on, this is my space, I own this, you’re not having it’. 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. She had to deal with that and use it in the right way. And that takes both experience and confidence in your ability.
That match, if you were to isolate one from the summer, was an indicator of somebody who has gone to another level.
And it’s also an indicator of what’s to come.
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