When Ashleigh Barty takes the court in February at Melbourne Park, nearly a year will have passed by since the WTA No. 1 last graced television screens with her appealing brand of tennis.
Speaking with TENNIS.com in December, the 2019 Roland Garros champion brings us up to speed on how she's kept busy at home, working around COVID-19 obstacles, changes she's made coming into the new season, and the first player she'd like to train with Down Under.
How often have you kept in touch with your mates on tour? What’s the vibe you’ve heard about playing in these unusual times?
I’ve kept in touch with a few of the girls, especially around key decisions and sharing our ideas and thoughts. Everyone is in a unique situation with different priorities on a personal level and different rules in their country depending on the COVID situation. I know everyone is missing the tour and the competition. It's tough not knowing what 2021 will look like, but we are all hoping to be back on the road competing regularly again.
What has a day in your life been like during your extended stay at home? I imagine the unforeseen time you’ve had to spend with your family has been a comforting silver lining.
Absolutely. Its been a challenging year for everyone but I have made the most of the extended time at home which I never imagined I would have. I’m very close to my family so I have treasured this time with them, especially my young nieces and nephew. A day in the life this year… I’m still training every day at Tennis Queensland, otherwise its walking the dogs, dinner at home, a visit with one of my sisters for a coffee and a bit of golf. The simple things that I don’t often get to enjoy when I’m on the road.
With the revised ranking structure, you finished as year-end No. 1 for a second straight year. Given you haven't competed since February 2020, do you see this more as an extension of your 2019 season?
I feel very fortunate I had such a strong 2019 given everything that’s happened in 2020. Being year-end No. 1 is a huge honor but not something I focus on. My goal is to start 2021 well and perform at my best in Australia.
What have you done to modify your training/fitness with COVID-19 measures to keep in top shape? Have the restrictions encouraged you to target anything specific?
The extended time at home has given me an opportunity to work on a few areas of my game. I’ve switched to natural gut which took some time to adjust to, but I’m feeling comfortable now and getting some extra power and feel. I also had time to do a strength block with my trainer Mark Taylor, which has given me a good fitness base leading into the Aussie summer.
In terms of modifying my training, the biggest challenge was not having Tyzz (coach Craig Tyzzer) in Queensland with me for most of the year. Tyzz was in Victoria and with the interstate border closures, we couldn’t be together from March to October. One of the courts at Tennis Queensland had a camera set up, so Tyzz watched my sessions via video while he was in lockdown. We have always communicated well, so although it was an adjustment, we got through it.
How did the butterflies of presenting the Premiership Cup to your Richmond Tigers (of Australian rules football) compare to serving for a title?
It was a huge honor and something I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. I’m close friends with Cotch (Trent Cotchin, Richmond captain) so being able to present the Cup to him was pretty special moment and something I’ll never forget. It comes a close second to the French [Open] win!
At the end of the 2020 season, John Millman at last became an ATP champion. What does it say about your fellow Queenslander to achieve a goal like this in his tremendous journey?
Honestly, I didn’t follow too much of it but I am very happy for Johnny. He is a hard worker and deserves success. It’s always great to see a fellow Aussie winning a title.
You had quite the Aussie summer a year ago. What will it mean to start back up again on home soil?
I can’t wait to get back on court, I’m itching to get started. I'm [glad] we get a few tournaments in Australia to kick off the year, as there is nothing better than playing at home. Hopefully we can get some fans to the events, too.
If you could pick one player to practice with first in 2021, who would it be and why?
Sim (Simona Halep). She gets the best out of me on court and we always have a good laugh.