Reaching the top 'incredible journey' for Barty

Birmingham Classic winner Ashleigh Barty's 36-5 record this year is the best on the WTA Tour.
Birmingham Classic winner Ashleigh Barty's 36-5 record this year is the best on the WTA Tour.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Three years ago, Ashleigh Barty was unranked and "starting from scratch" after returning to tennis following a two-year hiatus to take up professional cricket and "live a normal life".

Yesterday, the French Open winner entered the Birmingham Classic final on a roll on the back of 11 successive wins, with her 35-5 record the best of any player on the WTA Tour this season.

There was no stopping that momentum as she made it 12 victories on the bounce and her 36th this year, beating German Julia Gorges 6-3, 7-5 to become only the fifth Australian, man or woman, to reach the sport's summit, knocking Japanese Naomi Osaka off the top today.

After emulating countrywoman Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who climbed to the top of the WTA singles ranking in 1976, Barty admitted that it was "not something that was even in my realm".

In her on-court interview, she said: "It's been the most incredible journey for me and my team. You always dream about (being world No. 1) as a little kid but, for it to become a reality, it's incredible, we were aiming for top 10 this year.

"We started 31/2 years ago without a ranking and now to be where we are is a massive achievement for me and my team."

Like the 67-year-old Goolagong, Barty is proud of her indigenous Australian heritage, with her father having Ngarigo ancestry through one of his grandmothers.

"I'm a little bit speechless, it's been a whirlwind few weeks to be honest and to be able to follow in the footsteps of Evonne and even mentioned in the same sentence is incredible," Barty said.

"What she has done for our sport and Australians all around the world, she put us on the map, and what she has done for indigenous Australians is remarkable."

The Queenslander's rise has been meteoric.

Earlier this month, she became the first Australian woman to win the French Open since Margaret Court in 1973, and is now the 27th woman to own the top ranking and secure the top seeding ahead of next week's Wimbledon, where she will be a strong favourite owing to her serve-and-volley game.

Despite the prize at stake, the 23-year-old Barty showed little pressure, looking calm and composed throughout the final against Gorges, her doubles partner.

Her only moment of concern was when she faced a set point at 4-5 in the second, but she fired down an ace.

Two games later, a Gorges error confirmed Barty's coronation amid a standing ovation from the crowd.

There will be no elaborate celebrations for the Miami Open champion, however, as she said she was getting straight in a car to head down from Birmingham to Eastbourne to continue her Wimbledon preparations.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2019, with the headline 'Reaching the top 'incredible journey' for Barty'. Print Edition | Subscribe