Why a Break Was Just What Ashleigh Barty Needed

Ashleigh Barty in action at the 2020 Dubai Tennis Championships

It didn’t take long for Ashleigh Barty to start making an impact in professional tennis. The Australian won the girl’s singles title at Wimbledon aged 15 in 2011 and less than a year later was playing in the main draw at Melbourne Park. She continued to progress quickly and in 2013, Barty reached the second round at both Roland Garros and the US Open in singles and made three Grand Slam finals in doubles. Then after another impressive year in 2014, Barty stepped away from tennis.

She turned instead to cricket after a meeting with the Australian women’s team. Barty, despite having never played the sport competitively, began training with her state team, the Queensland Fire, as well as playing for the Western Suburbs District Cricket Club in a Brisbane T20 league. Her performances were good enough to earn her place in the Brisbane Heat team for the Women’s Big Bash League, the Australia’s domestic Twenty20 cricket competition, for the 2015/16 season.

But after the conclusion of the WBBL in February, 2016, Barty elected to return to tennis, initially playing only doubles before returning to singles. And she had clearly been rejuvenated by her break from the game. By the end of the year, she had climbed to world #325, but it did not take her long to improve on that. In fact, by the end of 2017, in what was her first full season since returning to the WTA Tour, she had not only cracked the top 100, but the top 20, ending the year ranked 17th in the world.

Her progress stalled somewhat in 2018, with Barty’s best effort a fourth round showing at the US Open, but she nonetheless finished the season at a career-high world #15. That set her up perfectly for a determined assault on the upper echelons of the women’s game, one that arrived in 2019. She started the season by reaching the quarterfinals on home turf at the Australian Open, beating Maria Sharapova en route and then won the Miami Open, breaking into the top ten as a result.

But Barty was far from finished. Despite having enjoyed comparatively little success on clay, Barty stormed through the draw at the French Open, with the Australian beating the Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova 6-1 6-3 in the final in less than 70 minutes. It was a momentous victory for Barty and Australia, with Barty the first Australian women to win in Paris since Margaret Court in 1973. Less than a month later, she claimed the world #1 ranking by winning the Birmingham Classic.

But just how important was Barty’s decision to take a break from tennis, a sport she had been playing since the age of five? Well, as far as Barty is concerned, it was absolutely vital. In an interview with ABC’S Kurt Fearnley for One Plus One, Barty said her early successes came “too fast and too soon”. Indeed, Barty has said that she felt lost in spite of her swift progress up the WTA rankings, with her break from the game affording her the chance to reflect.

“In short, I think I needed just to find myself,” Barty told Fearnley. “I felt like I got twisted and maybe a little bit lost along the way in the first part of my career. I was very lucky to have a lot of success, but I’m still very much a homebody and I kind of lost my way a little bit with not being able to connect with my family. We didn’t lose that love or that care, but I felt like there was a bit of a split. I wanted to come back to that. I wanted to come back to my family and those who love me the most.”

And whilst her time as a cricketer was short, Barty has been clear that it was a period in which she learnt a lot about herself and became closer with her family. As a result, when she returned to tennis, Barty had matured both as a person and as a player. It is a decision that appears to have paid off handsomely, although Barty still has a number of unrealised ambitions, not least winning Wimbledon, with Barty telling Fearnley that her dream is to win the title at the All England Club.

“It took a long time for me to say that out loud. It took a long time for me to have the courage to say that out loud, but that’s what I want. That’s what I want to work towards,” she said. “Being able to win Junior Wimbledon was really special, but it just gave me a taste of what it’s really like.” And with her wicked sliced backhand and accurate serve, it would be no surprise to see Barty claim the Venus Rosewater Dish in the future.

Particularly if she is able to continue her successful partnership with her coach Craig Tyzzer, who she has been working with since 2016. Tyzzer won the WTA Coach of the Year award in 2019 in recognition of his efforts to help Barty reach the top of the game. “You’re the captain of our ship. You make sure that we tick along every single day. There wouldn’t be another person that I would want to spend this journey with,” Barty said of Tyzzer whilst accepting  the Newcombe Medal.

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