The 2021 Wimbledon Championships are Ashleigh Barty’s to Lose

Ashleigh Barty Wimbledon
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Ordinarily, putting the world #1 down as the favorite to win a Grand Slam wouldn’t be too questionable or shocking. However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the protected ranking system it gave birth to has led to the Ashleigh Barty’s position at the top of the women’s game coming into question. Her play in recent months has gone a long way towards answering those questions, but she must win Wimbledon if she is to truly cement her place at the top of the women’s game, particularly given that the 2021 Wimbledon Championships appear to be hers to lose. To better understand why her place at the top is under scrutiny it’s worth taking a look at how she got there in the first place.

A Stellar 2019 Campaign Sees Barty End the Year as World #1

2019 was undoubtedly Barty’s breakthrough year on the WTA Tour. The pocket rocket Aussie lifted four titles throughout the year. The first of those came at the Miami Open, one of the largest tournaments on the tour. She followed that win up with another big win on the grass courts of Birmingham before lifting her maiden Grand Slam trophy at the French Open in Paris weeks later. The cherry on top was the WTA Finals trophy in Shenzhen which Barty lifted to cap off a dream year. Her win/loss record on the year was 59/14, good for a win rate of 80%. She also reached the most finals, tied with Karolina Pliskova for the most titles won and finished the race to Shenzhen over 1000 points ahead of the next player in the rankings.

There is little doubt that Barty deserved to end the year as the top player in the women’s game. However, her lack of play in 2020 would have cost her that spot in a normal year. Fortunately for her, 2020 was anything but normal. The COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of the protected ranking system and a tennis calendar that consisted of far fewer events than normal meant that Barty held on to her top spot despite not playing on the tour at all from March of 2020 until the beginning of 2021 when the tour returned to Australia. A quick explanation of the ranking system will make it clear how that became possible.

COVID-19 Protected Ranking System Keeps 2019 Stars at the Top Well Into 2021

In essence, the protected ranking system allows for players on both tours to carry their best results from 2019 through to this year. The system has been revised to cater for tournaments that are or aren’t being played this year. The ins and outs of it aren’t particularly relevant except for the fact that they allowed Barty to carry all her points from 2019 through to this year. She also added a trophy in Adelaide at the start of 2020 before the protected ranking system was brought into effect. The system meant Barty could miss two Grand Slams – one of which she won the previous year – as well as several other tournaments she played in the year before without having to worry about dropping any ranking points.

Barty was far from the only player to benefit from the system in this way. Nonetheless, her place at the top was brought firmly into question when Naomi Osaka lifted the 2020 US Open and 2021 Australian Open and still found herself sitting at #2 in the rankings. Barty’s play this year has gone a long way towards answering those questions for most in the tennis world. She has already lifted three trophies this year after all. However, failing to win Wimbledon will likely see them raised once more, particularly given she is the favorite and the fact that so many of the biggest threats to her title bid have fallen by the wayside. The list of injuries, upsets and withdrawals of some of the biggest names in women’s tennis add yet more fuel narrative that the 2021 Wimbledon Championships are Barty’s to lose.

Wimbledon 2021 Likely the Best Chance Barty Will Ever Get to Win a Second Grand Slam

Of the top ten women’s players as of the start of the tournament, only Aryna Sabalenka remains. Defending champion Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka didn’t start the tournament for different reasons. Wimbledon great Serena Williams withdrew in the first round. Soon afterwards other favorites such as Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova suffered similarly shocking early exits. The rest of the Top 10 has fallen by the wayside as have all Grand Slam winners except Angelique Kerber. A look at the names remaining makes it hard to pick anyone but Barty to lift the trophy come Saturday. She has played the best tennis on the women’s tour this year by some way. In fact, the Aussie should lift her second Grand Slam if she can continue at that level for three more matches.

The first of those is an easily winnable affair against fellow Aussie Alja Tomljanovic. From there things get more tricky, with a match against Kerber or Karolina Muchova lying in store. In the final, should she get there, Barty will undoubtedly be hoping to face Karolina Pliskova. She holds a 5-2 head-to-head record against the Czech and will be confident of winning that matchup. Nonetheless, She has recent wins against Ons Jabeur and Sabalenka as well. She will also surely feel she has the game to beat Viktorija Golubic in the unlikely event the Swiss makes the final from that half of the draw.

Everything is in Barty’s favor as we head towards the climax of the most prestigious tournament in tennis. The 2021 Wimbledon championships appear to be Ashleigh Barty’s to lose. The question is, can she really afford to lose them if she is to convince everyone that she is deserving of the #1 spot in the WTA rankings?

Main Photo from Getty.