Three years ago, in May of 2016, Ashleigh Barty and her coach Craig Tyzzer boarded a plane bound for England. Their first stop was Eastbourne, where the then 20-year was set to play her first professional tennis tournament since the 2014 US Open, having walked away from the tour to pursue professional cricket and sort out whether she wanted to pursue a full-time life on the tennis tour.
Barty had no ranking when she arrived in Eastbourne. But she worked her way through qualifying at an ITF 50K to make the semifinals.
A week later, Barty's name reappeared on the WTA rankings at No.623.
Three years later, it sits atop the WTA rankings at No.1.
Barty extended the win-streak she began with her title run at Roland Garros to 12 consecutive matches, winning the 2019 Nature Valley Classic without losing a set to notch her tour-leading third title of the season. On Sunday, Barty defeated good friend Julia Goerges 6-3, 7-5 to win the biggest grass court title of her career and assure herself the World No.1 ranking on Monday.
By overtaking Japan's Naomi Osaka at World No.1, Barty will become the 27th woman and second Australian to hold the WTA's top spot. The Queenslander will take up the torch from her friend and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who was the tour's second World No.1 in 1976.
Barty spoke to WTA Insider by phone after her big win in Birmingham, to reflect on her perfect month of tennis, what it meant to share her No.1 moment with her family and friends, and what it means now that the last two WTA No.1s have hailed from the Asia-Pacific region.
WTA Insider: Coming off your Roland Garros title and playing your first tournament as a major champion, did it feel different competing in Birmingham this year?
Barty: Yes and no. I think the only thing that was different is that we're starting the grass here in Birmingham. Usually, I've played one grass court tournament beforehand, but this time it was coming in fresh and a little bit of the element of the unknown.
But for all of my process and my preparation, nothing changed. It was really nice to be busy every day here, to almost have that distraction of just preparing to play.
WTA Insider: How was that week off that you had between Paris and Birmingham? I assume you've had more sponsor and media obligations and that can be tough to balance as you ready for a part of the year that you love.
Barty: It was actually really easy to honest with you. After Paris, we came up here and we hid at the Belfry for a few days and played a little golf and had three or four days of just downtime, not really talking to many people at all.
And obviously, once you come to the tournament, the normal preparations that you have with practice and media commitments and all those things kick in. But for me, it was, in a sense, a very normal week.
WTA Insider: What have the conversations been like with Tyz as you look ahead to the grass season and the opportunities that lay ahead over the next four weeks? Do you discuss your ambitions explicitly?
Barty: We didn't really talk about it in any focus, to be honest. It was more just about this event, a clean slate, fresh start. Ultimately, even though it's only a few weeks long, changing surfaces is kind of a new start. It was just kind of about getting my feet used to the grass as quickly as possible and enjoying it.
This is always a time of year that I love to play. I knew it wasn't going to be perfect tennis and I just had to try and get my feet stuck in the tournament and get used to the courts as quickly as possible. But it's a surface that I love to play on and always brings a smile on that first practice session on the grass. It was a really, really nice week.
WTA Insider: You didn't lose a set all week but you didn't have an easy draw here. You opened against Donna Vekic, faced Venus Williams, Barbora Strycova - who always plays well here - and then Julia in the final. At what point did you feel your game click this week?
Barty: I think it was a really good challenge against Donna first off. I knew that I'd have to be sharp and I'd have to be ready and I'd have to be at a good level to make it a contest. That was probably the perfect storm for me, in a sense of knowing that I had to be really switched on from the get-go.
So even from that first match, there were some things that I would have loved to have done better, but looking at an overall think, it was a pretty clean match, a pretty good match. Really nice to have someone who was really, really going to test me. And I knew that I'd have to be switched on.
WTA Insider: Today's final against your good friend Julia was played in great spirit and, I thought, very high-quality. What was the key for you to get the win and hold her off from forcing a third set?
Barty: Yeah an extremely high-quality match. I knew at the start. Couldn't get a look in at Jule's serves at all. I think she probably made close to eight or ten first serves in a row and didn't give me a look in.
But I knew I had to be patient and I think a key for me was to be able to wrestle a little bit of that momentum in the first set. And then not let her run away with the second. She had a foot in the door and had the opportunity to run away with it. I think it was important to me to get that break back early in the second set to not kind of let her try and serve it out or serve deep into that set with the lead.
WTA Insider: This is your third title of the season, all on different surfaces. What does winning the Birmingham title mean to you?
Barty: It's just been such an incredible week, a beautiful journey that we've been on over the last few years. And to kind of change our thinking and to try to peak for the right tournaments, and to prepare for every single tournament but really have a few that we focus on. This was one for me that I wanted to do well at to give myself a chance for the rest of the grass court season. To be well prepared, to be ready, and it's been a really, really enjoyable week.
WTA Insider: Can you compare your emotions on match point at Roland Garros to match point here? From the outside, it looked like two different reactions.
Barty: Yeah, very unique situations. I think different for both. To be honest, I think I was more relaxed this week. It felt more like a normal week. Obviously you'd been in this situation a little bit more regularly, obviously played a final here in Birmingham, and kind of knew what it felt like.
Whereas in Paris it was all happening for the first time. It was all new. It was all happening very quickly. But here it felt like I was in a really good rhythm all week. a really good temperament all week and kind of just rolled with the punches a little bit and was able to find a way through.
WTA Insider: What was going through your mind?
Barty: Yeah, kind of a similar thing, I kind of didn't know what to do (laughs). Obviously looked at my team and to see the excitement on their faces and also really, really special to have mom and dad here and my childhood coach Jim, who had flown over just a few days ago.
For them to be here for this moment in particular, it's a moment that we can never have again. It's been just the most incredible day. A day that we'll never forget. And really amazing that I could share this moment with people that have been so influential in my life.
WTA Insider: That's so great that Jim could be there to see this.
Barty: Yeah, it was planned. He was flying over here for the back end of the grass court season and it just so happened that he landed two days ago. Yeah I mean the stars have just aligned for me this last month.
WTA Insider: What does it mean to you to become World No.1?
Barty: To be honest, I'm a little bit speechless. I'm not really sure what's going on (laughs).
At the net, Jules almost made me cry today. She's just an incredible human being and what she had to say was really nice. She's just an amazing person and to be able to share that moment with her was incredible. There's probably only a handful of other people who I'd want to share that moment with.
Just to be where we are now, no, no chance it's sunk in yet. But we've enjoyed every minute. It's just been the most incredible journey and the most incredible career.
WTA Insider: Do you remember the first time you met Julia?
Barty: Probably not in any detail. Case (Casey Dellacqua) introduced me to a lot of girls when I was on tour and I know Case and Jules always had this incredible relationship. Jules was always a person that welcomed me with open arms, invited me to practice, showed me what it was like a few times on tour. To be able to call her a friend, a genuine friend, someone that I'll be in touch with when we both stop playing. Just a real genuine friendship.
WTA Insider: Historically, the World No.1 ranking has been dominated by players from either Europe or the United States. In fact, of the first 25 No.1s, only one - Evonne Goolagong Cawley - was not from Europe or the US. With Naomi, the 26th No.1, and you, the 27th No.1, the last two World No.1s will have come from the Asia/Pacific region. Do you think this is a statistical anomaly or is there something happening here?
Barty: I think it's just an incredible showing for how tennis has really become a global sport. It's amazing that more and more people are picking up a racquet all around the world. And yes it's been dominated by both the US and Europe over the last little while - I'm not even sure how many decades we're talking about - but it's just really exciting to know that tennis is really becoming a global sport for women. It's becoming a genuine career option.
It's just really nice to kind of have that difference and have people from different parts of the world winning tournaments. To start the year with 18 different winners was remarkable. I don't know what the stats would be behind where they're from, but to have that kind of spread is incredible.