If this year were anything like the last few years, Ashleigh Barty—who celebrates her 24th birthday on Friday—would be fresh off playing Fed Cup right now, and preparing for the European clay-court season. But 2020 has been almost nothing like the last few years, and with the tour suspended until at least July, she will be spending her birthday, and the foreseeable future, at home in Australia.
The world No. 1 is keeping her spirits up Down Under, though.
“Obviously everyone is in a bit of a unique situation, depending on what country they’re from and all the governing bodies making different decisions,” Barty told WTATour.com this week. “But I think the best part for me is there’s always a silver lining, there’s always something that we could be grateful for. There’s always a perspective that you can take that can allow you to appreciate it better. For me, it’s being able to spend some time with my family and just really appreciate the little things in life.”
Barty’s humble, hard-working attitude has brought her success in tennis ever since the juniors.
Her talents first shone through when she was a teenager. Having won the Wimbledon girls’ title as a 15-year-old in 2011, she became one of the world’s best doubles players less than two years later, reaching three Grand Slam finals in the team discipline in 2013 with countrywoman Casey Dellacqua.
But it was after her break from the tour, between September 2014 and February 2016, when Barty began her climb to the top of the singles rankings. After getting up to No. 325 by the end of 2016, she posted back-to-back Top 20 finishes in 2017 and 2018, ending those seasons at No. 17 and No. 15.
Then came the Aussie's breakthrough in 2019—she made her Top 10 debut after winning her first Premier Mandatory title in Miami, surged from No. 8 to No. 2 after her first major title at Roland Garros, then ascended to No. 1 on June 24 after winning another Premier title in Birmingham.
“It’s just been the most amazing journey for myself and my team,” Barty said after clinching No. 1. “We’ve got to this point by doing all the small things right, and I think we’ll continue to try and do that. But it’s certainly been the most amazing month of tennis for us, and really an amazing three years.
“It’s hard to put into words what we’ve been able to achieve.”
The newly minted 24-year-old is just the second Australian woman to get to No. 1 after Evonne Goolagong, who spent two weeks at the top from April 26 to May 9, 1976—almost 20 years before Barty was even born.
“I’m nowhere near her status,” Barty said about the seven-time major champion. “To be mentioned in the same sentence is incredible. Evonne is an amazing human being and has set the tone for so many Australians and indigenous Australians around our country and around the world. What she did in her career was incredible, and what she continues to do off the court for us as a sport is amazing.”
Barty finished 2019 strong, winning the season-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen and securing the year-end No. 1 ranking. After losing her 2020 opener, Barty raised her first trophy on home soil in Adelaide and rode that momentum to the semifinals of the Australian Open. As of now, she holds a 2,641 point lead over the No. 2-ranked player, Simona Halep—more than a Grand Slam title, which brings you 2,000 points.
The Australian’s main focus is what happens on the tennis court, though.
“I think once you get to world No. 1 it’s a bizarre feeling, something I never thought I may feel. And you dream as a little kid of trying to be the best that you can be, and of course you have the dreams of being the best in the world, as well,” Barty said from the Qatar Total Open in Doha this year. “But I think once you become comfortable in your own skin and trust yourself, the rankings are irrelevant. It’s about enjoying each match as it comes, each day as it comes, and the journey as a tennis player.”
Whenever the tour resumes and that journey continues, Barty is still going to be the woman to beat—and she has been keeping her hand-eye coordination skills very sharp in some very creative ways.