Genuine, humble and respectful are the words coach Craig Tyzzer used to describe the new World Number 1 Ash Barty. They are exactly what you’d like to hear about any sporting champion. Last night in defeating Germany’s Julia Georges in the Birmingham final Barty became the first Australian women to ascend to the top ranking since Evonne Goolagong Cawley did it in 1976.
The Queenslander started the sport at the age of 5 when her folks gave her a racquet; by 14 she was playing the local Challenger circuit events. The following year she won Junior Wimbledon and got a wildcard into main draw Qualifying at the US Open, by the age of 17 she was finding doubles success with Casey Dellacqua in reaching three Grand Slam finals (Australian, Wimbledon, US Open).
For the next year though life on tour had become a grind married with disillusionment and after a straight set first round loss at the US Open to Barbara Strycova she decided to take a hiatus from tennis. Barty herself admitted, “I needed to step away”.
It was a move that had to be made. How many times have we seen athletes trundle on through stages of their careers only to be weighed down by the pressure of expectation and never actually living up to the hype?
Dealing with life on the tour, the media spotlight and your own lofty goals is a skill in itself so Barty decided to take a break and played cricket in the big bash league for the Brisbane Heat but continued to hit tennis balls with her junior coach whilst admitting she knew that returning to tennis was always the plan.
In terms of her career what happens from here will be interesting, some players have not dealt with the added pressure of being world number one but Barty has a level head and it could be a role she’s comfortable with. At 23 years of age if she’s injury free there’s 10 more years of potential Grand Slam victories ready to be gobbled up.
Serena held the number one ranking for 319 weeks, in the last two years Kerber, Pliskova, Muguruza, Halep, Wozniacki, and Naomi Osaka have all risen to the top ranking only to lose it, regardless of whether Barty holds onto it for however many weeks by the time next years’ Australian Open comes around now that she’s a Grand Slam Champion and world number one the expectation will be enormous for her to become the first local Women’s Champion in Melbourne since Chris O’Neill won it in 1978.
For now her sights will be focused on next weeks’ Wimbledon where she’s never been beyond the 3rdround. The Barty story still has a long way to go and the last few weeks has seen some huge highs but her rise has been unusual regarding her decision to take two years away from the game but it turned out to be the best call she ever made.
Ash Barty is a champion we can be proud of.