Ashleigh Barty: A Cool, Quiet Assassin

Ashleigh Barty in action at the Australian Open.
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A perfect forehand passing shot rocketed off Ashleigh Barty’s racquet. Danielle Collins was helpless, a spectator as the shot sailed into her forehand corner. Game, set, and match Barty. The Aussie screamed with some mixture of joy and a release of all the tension that had been building within her for years. Barty was an Australian Open champion at last, having beaten Collins 6-3, 7-6(2). While Barty had previously won the French Open and Wimbledon, victory in her home country’s event clearly meant so much to the world #1.

Barty told the WTA’s Courtney Nguyen after winning the title, “It’s an absolute bonus that it’s here in Australia with my friends, my family, my extended team. There are so many people that have put so much energy and love and sacrifice into my career and most of them were here this fortnight to be able to share that with me. And that’s really special.”

And it meant so much to the entire country of Australia, where as many as 4.3 million Aussies watched Barty’s triumph. In fact, only the AFL Final may have topped Barty’s trophy ceremony in terms of Australia’s TV audience. Barty’s win was a big deal. Yet, at the same time, there was a “ho-hum” feel to the event that was seen most recently when Serena Williams dominated the WTA Tour. Not to say that the Slam title wasn’t a big deal, of course, but rather that Barty was so much better than the rest of the field, that it only felt right with her lifting the winner’s trophy.

The statistics from Barty’s run are incredible. It’s important to note that, coming into the Australian Open, Barty had already dominated the Adelaide 1 warmup tournament. She took down Elena Rybakina 6-3 6-2 in the final there, only losing one set all week. She finished the tournament on an eight-set winning streak and beat both Rybakina and world #4 Iga Swiatek.

Including Adelaide, Barty finished the Australian Open on a 22-set winning streak. Over the course of the tournament in Melbourne, she hit 136 winners compared to 118 unforced errors. She won over 75% of her first serves in her last six matches of the tournament and was broken three times in the seven matches. In fact, Barty only faced 18 break points in all of the matches combined! It was a dominating service performance for the Aussie.

In addition, Barty held every opponent, but Camila Giorgi in the third round, to under 60% of their service points won. Only Giorgi and Collins in the final won more than 55%. The world #1 truly played an all-around game. But unlike, say Nick Kyrgios, who is very “boisterous” about his successes, there’s a quiet confidence to how Barty plays tennis. There aren’t outbursts, complaints, or attempts to have the spotlight solely on her. The trick shots a few and far between, tactics always coming before trying to make a scene.

And it’s because of this calm, under-the-radar demeanour that it might come as a shock to some people that Barty is over 2500 points ahead of Aryna Sabalenka, her nearest challenger, in the WTA live rankings. Barty doesn’t try to be flashy; she tries to be effective. And she’s that much better than the rest of the field.

Barty’s game is perfectly tailored to give opponents fits. She does a great job of hitting her spots on-serve, she understands the right time to come to net, and her groundstrokes are consistently deep in the court and finding the perfect combo between pace and precision.

But, perhaps the most famous part of Barty’s game is her backhand slice. Barty’s slice keeps opponents off-balance and neutralizes their attacking ability. She’s able to carve the ball in such a way that stays low to the court, and she can manipulate the slice around the court so well. The slice doesn’t just neutralize players, but it’s a form of attack, as opponents frequently mishit and provide short balls from the cutting backhand slices that Barty can produce.

Barty later explained to the WTA’s Nguyen, “I think being able to embrace the outside noise and embrace the pressure, as they call it, for me that isn’t pressure. I think being able to really play my own way, put my own spin on it and still be myself in what can be a really daunting environment was incredibly fun this week.”

And Barty demonstrated that she was able to handle the pressure that came with her position both as an Aussie and within the tennis ranks as the clear top player during the final against Collins. Barty found herself down 1-5* in the second set with an intense third set looming. Yet, she didn’t panic who radically shift her game plan. She calmly steadied herself and figured out a way back into the set, winning four games in a row, and eventually taking the set 7-6(2). Barty is not a scandalous player that viewers will see in the papers, nor is she a player who is going to be all-flash, no-substance on the court.

Ashleigh Barty is a cool, quiet assassin. She’s a winner, plain and simple.

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