One of the most consistent players on the women’s tour has broken into the Top 15 for very the first time this week, as Ashleigh Barty—fresh off the biggest title of her career at the season-ending WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, China—has reached a new career-high ranking.
Barty, who had returned to tennis in 2016 following a one-and-a-half-year break from the sport, notched her first Top 20 season in 2017, finishing at No. 17. Now, after spending the entire 2018 season hovering between No. 16 and No. 21, she breaks new ground after her big win in Zhuhai.
“It’s been a truly phenomenal year,” the 15th-ranked Barty told WTAtennis.com after the final. “My goal is to stay Top 20 and try and consolidate as best I can. We’ve been able to do that and come away with a couple of titles as well, and still being very successful in doubles. It’s been a really, really amazing year.
“Now we’ll go home to celebrate and prepare for bigger things, starting with the Australian summer.”
Barty’s other highlights from her career-best season in 2018 include another title at the International-level grass court event in Nottingham, a final at the Premier-level event in Sydney (finishing runner-up to Angelique Kerber) and three more semifinals at Strasbourg, Montreal and Wuhan. She also made the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time at the US Open (falling to Karolina Pliskova).
Barty has accomplished her climb with an unusual game which includes a lot of slice backhands and attacking play.
“I would describe myself as a player who likes to play with variety,” she said. “Enjoy my tennis and bring as many shots into the game as possible. That's what my coach taught me right from when I was five years old.”
The Australian also had a career-best season in doubles this year, highlighted by winning her first Grand Slam title of any kind in women’s doubles at the US Open, alongside CoCo Vandeweghe. She also reached a new career-high in doubles earlier in the year, rising to No. 5 the week of May 21.
It turns out Barty wasn't the only player who finished the season at a career-high ranking after Zhuhai. Wang Qiang, who finished runner-up to Barty at the WTA Elite Trophy, improved from No. 22 to No. 20 on the new WTA rankings. It wasn’t just her Top 20 debut, it also made her just the fourth Chinese player in tennis history ever to break the Top 20, after Li Na, Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie. Li, a two-time Grand Slam champion, went as high as No.2, while Peng and Zheng reached No.14 and No.15, respectively.
It’s an even more impressive feat for Wang given she went into the summer hardcourt season ranked No. 78. Since Wimbledon, she’s won 28 of 37 matches, two titles—both in China, Nanchang and Guangzhou—and gone deep at several big events, including semifinals at Wuhan and Beijing and, of course, the final of Zhuhai.
Wang won just one WTA main-draw match in the first two months of 2018. But if she keeps up this form, in the first few months of 2019, she should join Barty in the Top 15 as well.