Barty - A champ and life of the party

Ashleigh Barty of Australia celebrating with her Miami Open trophy - the most significant victory of her career - on Saturday.
Ashleigh Barty of Australia celebrating with her Miami Open trophy - the most significant victory of her career - on Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

No repeat singles titles by anyone this year, but she looks set to be a popular serial winner

MIAMI • Another week, another different champion.

April is here yet no man or woman has managed to win more than one singles title on the main tennis circuit this season.

"That's amazing, isn't it?" Ashleigh Barty said after keeping the streak alive on Saturday with a 7-6 (7-1), 6-3 victory against Karolina Pliskova in the Miami Open final.

But, while the Australian was the 14th WTA champion in 14 events, her winning a title of this magnitude bore no resemblance to a fluke.

Her game is a varied thing of beauty and, though she is far from the most imposing player on the Tour, her tennis has been standing taller and taller this year.

She was a finalist in Sydney, a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open and was the key figure in Australia's 3-2 victory over the United States in the Fed Cup.

Though Elina Svitolina stopped her in the round of 16 at Indian Wells, there was no stopping Barty in Miami as the 12th seed beat three top-10 players in Kiki Bertens, Petra Kvitova and Pliskova.

BONUS FROM HIATUS

I was an average cricketer and I'm becoming a better tennis player. It's been a few years now, but I certainly feel like I'm a very different person. I feel like I'm a more complete (and) better player.

ASHLEIGH BARTY, Miami Open women's singles champion, on her 2014-2016 break from tennis that has allowed her to better manage the expectations and begin fulfilling her tennis potential.

Already an established doubles champion, she will get into the singles' top 10 for the first time today, moving to ninth in the world and becoming the first Australian woman to break into that group since 2013, when Samantha Stosur was at her peak.

The 22-year-old is, in many respects, an old-school tennis talent. Her off-court demeanour is upbeat, articulate and modest.

On the court, she has pure technique, including a potent loop top-spin forehand and a match-winning serve full of disguise and power, which she generates with great leg drive and racket-head speed.

Pliskova, a former world No. 1 who was seeded fifth in Miami, leads the Tour in aces.

But Barty won that duel within a duel, finishing with 15 aces to the Czech's six and winning 86 per cent of her first-serve points to her opponent's 66 per cent.

She can also thrive at the net - she won the US Open doubles title last year with American CoCo Vandeweghe - and can drive a two-handed backhand or hit a one-handed slice with enough bite to cause a world of pain for tall players like Pliskova, who thrive on higher strike zones and consistent pace.

Variety, it seems, is all the rage in women's tennis and Barty has a pronounced mid-rally taste for changing the rhythm.

"I have always tried to bring as much variety onto the court as possible," she said post-match. "It's always about trying to neutralise what your opponent's doing. Obviously, there was a bit of a phase in women's tennis where there was this big power and first strikers that were getting on top of rallies early.

"The physicality in tennis, especially on the women's side, has grown, which has allowed more players to neutralise off that big first ball and work their way into points."

Barty proved her point repeatedly on Saturday, so much so that it is easy to imagine this breakthrough could have come earlier if she had not decided to step away from the sport after the 2014 US Open to focus on cricket instead.

But, in her view, it was that break, which ended in 2016, that has allowed her to better manage the expectations and begin fulfilling her tennis potential.

"I was an average cricketer and I'm becoming a better tennis player," she said.

"It was a time that I found myself a little bit more as a person... But tennis was always my calling.

"It's been a few years now, but I certainly feel like I'm a very different person. I feel like I'm a more complete (and) better player."

So it seems, after the most significant victory of her career - Miami is a part of the top tier of events on the Tour, below only the four Grand Slams and the season-ending WTA Finals in prestige.

While Barty might be merely one of so many winners this year, she has the ability and the personality to not only be a serial champion but a popular one, as well.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2019, with the headline 'Barty - A champ and life of the party'. Print Edition | Subscribe