If 2017 was anything, it was the year of Ash Barty winning tennis tournaments. After taking her first professional title at the ASEAN Games in August, the Australian teen then won three more in a row, all on the ITF Junior Circuit. Now she’s on the verge of making it four in a row, having defeated three seeded players in straight sets on Tuesday. Will she make it? She’s certainly in the top 30 to qualify, so she’s not out of it yet. But one thing’s for sure: as long as she’s around, the world of tennis will never be the same again.
The 22-year-old Ash Barty has been having an excellent World Tennis Championship this year, despite having only recently picked up the sport. After playing for Australia at the Olympics in 2016, she moved to England to play professionally, but before this year she’s only ever been ranked outside the top 100. But she’s got the game to be a champion. She’s not one to settle for anything less than her best, and her new coach has been making it all happen.
She will get her chance to do so on Saturday when she takes on former world number one Karolina Pliskova in the final. Two years after her breakthrough at the French Open and 50 years after Australian Evonne Goolagong’s first Wimbledon title, 25-year-old Barty has the chance to fulfill her dream.
I had an incredible run, Barty said after her 6-3, 7-6 (3) come-from-behind victory over former world champion Angelique Kerber with a broad smile. It has had its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Now I have the chance to fulfill a childhood dream.
It all started when she was only 4 years old and convinced local coach Jim Joyce to let her participate in practice, even though she was younger than the others. He soon recognized Barty’s talent and taught him every frame, with an emphasis on variety.
Joyce taught Barty to serve and hit backhands at a young age, and that’s an important part of the game today, and her versatile skills make her a threat on all surfaces.
It took patience, courage and self-confidence for Barty to endure defeats as she learned to build her game, but Joyce’s words stuck in her head and convinced her to believe in her style of play.
I think when you start playing more tennis when you’re younger, when you start understanding what’s out there in the tennis world, then I think you dare to dream, Barty said.
When you are a child, the possibilities of your mind are unlimited. I think the older you get and the more experience you get, the more natural it becomes. It is almost no longer a utopia, but a kind of reality. This could be a reality.
As a child, Ash Barty dared to dream of a Wimbledon title. Now she is one victory away from bringing him back to life. Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
It has been ten years since Barty won a junior title at Wimbledon, a 15-year-old with a perfect grass court game, her slice was a weapon, and her ability to think on her feet and find a way to win no matter what was perhaps her greatest attribute.
When she quit the sport at 18 and started playing cricket, the tennis world was dumbfounded. Backstage, however, Barty said she suffered from burnout and depression and knew she had to take time off if she wanted to keep her career in play longer.
This break, which lasted a little over a year, worked wonders. Working with Craig Tizer she has worked her way to the top, her play on the court is something beautiful, she stomps the power of stronger shots and thwarts even the best.
When the WTA suspended the March 2020 Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she took time off and when the Games resumed, she chose to stay in Australia with her family while others competed for Grand Slam titles.
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I think the greatest growth often happens in the most difficult times, Barty said. I think that’s why this tournament was so important to me. I have learned so much from all my experiences, the good, the bad, the average, that I have learned from.
But that decision was finally made up for by a great performance on gravel this year. She withdrew from the French Open because of a hip injury that jeopardized her participation in Wimbledon.
But she did well and is getting better with each game. She is now one win away from joining the list of Australian greats who have won at Wimbledon, from Goolagong and Margaret Court in the women’s tournament to Rod Laver, who congratulated Barty early on Thursday.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure it would ever happen, Barty says. I think you should always put yourself in that position. I think Wimbledon has been an incredible place for me to learn. I first came here ten years ago as a junior, and I learned a lot that week.
Probably some of the toughest weeks of my game in 2018, 2019. The fact that we lost in those two tournaments taught me a lot.
When Barty steps onto the court to compete against Pliskova for the title, don’t be surprised if she remembers the games and lessons of her youth instead of those dark moments.
I think you just have to go out and remember how it felt as a kid, Barty said, that it was fun, that there was the freedom to go out and try what you could.