For the most humble of champions, Ash Barty has made a loud and defiant statement in the past month.
She shushed doubts over her world No.1 ranking, frozen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, by winning the Miami Open. Then she buried them with victory in Stuttgart, her 11th WTA title.
Barty’s response was ruthless, in her unassuming way. She simply got out there and beat everyone in her path. She never bought into the rankings chatter but always insisted she remained a rightful No.1; and so it has proved.
The Australian (9655) is now nearly 2000 ranking points clear of Naomi Osaka (7800), the world No.2 and four-time Grand Slam winner. She is also the season race leader, overtaking Osaka (2471 to 2400) with her latest points haul; albeit having played six events compared to the Australian Open champion’s three.
Barty is on a 10-match winning streak against fellow top 10 players, a run only bettered this century by greats Kim Clijsters (11), Venus and Serena Williams (15) and Justine Henin (17).
She beat three top 10 players consecutively to conclude both Miami and Stuttgart, and she leaves Germany with her game in supreme order. The Aussie came back from a set down against Karolina Pliskova (6), Elina Svitolina (4) and Aryna Sabalenka (5) to win Stuttgart’s Porsche Grand Prix.
“This week’s been phenomenal for me,” Barty, 21-3 this season having barely played last year, said in her post-match press conference.
“We’ve played a lot of tennis, a lot of matches. And I’ve certainly felt like I’m taking my tennis to kind of a new level, in a sense of being able to be calm and play with freedom and play without consequence in a way, just going out there and try to bring my best every single point.
“Tennis is a strange sport at times. Even though you can be a set down, I didn’t feel I was very far off. I had a couple of break points and opportunities myself, you take one or two of those and it’s a completely different ball game.
“I think it’s important to just continue to work in the right direction, try to do right things and know that over time you hopefully get the result; and if you don’t, you just keep going for the next time and I think that’s a massively important attitude to have.”
Had Barty been more mentally fragile, she could have gone into a spiral after a quarter-final implosion at the Australian Open. Instead, she has rallied superbly and heads towards the French Open as the likely favourite.
Barty did not get to defend her maiden Grand Slam title in Roland Garros last year, opting out of nearly the entire season due to the pandemic. She clearly has the game to win against in Paris and has always fancied her chances at Wimbledon, given that grass is her favourite surface.
Barty has now won three titles this season, having taken out the Yarra Valley Classic before the Australian Open.
There were two remarkable aspects to her Stuttgart win. She was the first reigning world No.1 to win there since Henin 14 years ago and by winning the doubles with Jennifer Brady, she was the first player to take out both events at Stuttgart since Lindsay Davenport 20 years ago.
“It’s extremely humbling to be even mentioned in the same sentence as both Justine and Lindsay,” Barty said.
“They are both incredible champions, legends of our sport, and to be able to have a little bit of a shared history within this tournament is really cool.”
Barty is now entering her 73rd week as world No.1. That puts her at No.9 on the all-time list. Osaka has 25 weeks.
Barty’s tally may be slightly controversial due to the rankings freeze but she has left no doubt that she remains a worthy owner of the top spot.
If her form holds, she could further cement her claims as a modern great of tennis by winning a second Grand Slam title in the coming months.
Her next stop is a Madrid, a WTA Premier Mandatory event with 1000 ranking points for the winner. Osaka is on the entry list, with tennis intrigued to see if the Japanese megastar can improve her game on clay this season.
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