World No.1 Ashleigh Barty is once again primed for a busy Australian summer. The Queenslander has been sidelined for 11 months due to the global pandemic and is set to return to competition at one of next week's pair of Melbourne 500s, the Gippsland Trophy and Yarra Valley Classic.
The 24-year-old will look to pick up where she left off in 2020. After an outstanding 2019 season that saw her win Roland Garros, the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, and finish the season as the second Australian to hold the WTA World No.1 ranking, Barty kicked off 2020 with a title run in Adelaide and semifinal runs at the Australian Open and Qatar Total Open.
WTA Insider caught up with Barty by phone from Melbourne, where the Queenslander is fine-tuning her game before heading to Adelaide for 'A Day at the Drive', an exhibition event alongside Serena Williams, Simona Halep, and Naomi Osaka, which will serve as the official curtain-raiser to the Australian summer of tennis.
WTA Insider: When did you start your pre-season in earnest?
Barty: We probably changed that year into a full pre-season in early October. It's been a long pre-season and I've probably grown a little impatient the last three or four weeks about wanting to start and wanting to compete again.
But all in all it's been a unique year for everyone without a doubt, a unique preparation for everyone. It's been a little bit of a tricky one with everyone having to navigate through different things. But it's been great and I feel like we're ready to go and now we're excited to get out there and have some fun.
WTA Insider: You haven't been in competition since February. Did that make this pre-season feel different?
Barty: I think my body was a little bit shocked with the volume of hitting tennis balls. The training off-court I kept going all year and I found an eagerness to train again off the court. When I wasn't hitting tennis balls I found different ways to train and through different lockdown periods I found different ways to stay active. But the blisters on the hands and feet were the biggest things the first month back on court.
It's been a good progression. I'm lucky to have a coach in Tyzz, who has navigated his way through many pre-seasons before. Just knowing how to structure them is really important, to not rush too much at the start but also know that there is a bog period in there when you're in a bit of hurt and you're trying to hang on as long as you can. All in all, it's been great and I feel like we're in a good place to try and bring some good tennis.
WTA Insider: It's rare to get a prolonged amount of time outside of competition to work on your game, but at the same time you probably needed to knock off some rust. Was the pre-season priority to get you back to competition form or was there time to work on the technical side of things?
Barty: A bit of both, always. The thing with Tyzz and his coaching method is that it's not always putting your eggs in one basket. It's about being able to have a complete game and a fully developed game and that's what we work for every single day.
We did have a longer pre-season this time so we had a bit more of a crack at it, but then we move into the competition phase and the extra thinking goes out the window and it comes a little bit more naturally for me. It's about trusting the work that we've done and trusting that the right decision will be made on the court in that split second when we have to do it and have to execute.
That's the challenge now, getting into those matches and trying to do that as often as possible.
WTA Insider: With the start of the season right around the corner, do the pre-season butterflies feel the same as always?
Barty: It is a different year, without a doubt. There's no way around that. I think we have to, for us, put trust in the process and the routines we've created.
Regardless of how I'm feeling in the days leading up to the matches or even the morning before, once I click into that real competition gear, all the routines come naturally, where I don't have to think and I don't have to overthink.
It's just about going about my normal business and on that day if the level of tennis is good enough to win that match then that's great and we get another opportunity the following day. If it's not, then we go back to the drawing board and work on it for the next week.
WTA Insider: You've spoken before of using the forced break to enjoy time with your family and having that extended time at home. But did you ever feel that impatience to get back into competition?
Barty: At the beginning, I think everyone around the world had that anxiety and there was the uncertainty all around the world. So I think that was quite normal and that was ok to feel that in the beginning. The first couple of months I barely picked up a racquet and quite enjoyed that forced break. I found spending time with my family and all the things I have at home -- I don't need a lot to be happy. Tennis isn't the only thing in the world that brings me happiness. Being able to be in that beautiful place with my family, being at home, spending time with those that I love the most was absolutely more than enough for me. Having that perspective throughout the year was brilliant throughout the year.
I certainly did miss the competition. There were times we had to make some really tough decisions, but I feel like we made those tricky decisions for the right reasons. That's all that matters. That made me feel a lot better knowing that my team, we are all on the same page. We believe in the same values and we know that if we make the right decisions for the right reasons then it's all going to be ok in the end.
Being able to then start moving into training and practice and start to knuckle down in the pre-season was enjoyable. I missed the routine and craved the training that had become so normal to me for so many years now.
WTA Insider: It's been nearly 12 months since you've played a match. Have you been able to play practice sets or practice matches during your prep?
Barty: We've tried to incorporate match simulation as best we can over the last couple of weeks. It's not every single day, there's a mix in there. Obviously, at the moment, the preparation for everyone is a little bit unique leading up to the Australian Open. Everyone is in a different situation and everyone has different challenges, obviously.
For us personally, it's been nice hitting with a few of the other Australian girls who I haven't seen a lot of over the last 12 months, who live here in Melbourne. We've created a little mini-bubble ourselves, which has been great. We've been able to hit plenty of balls and work on what we need to in the position we're in.
WTA Insider: Does your abbreviated 2020 schedule have any impact on how you plan to schedule your 2021 season?
Barty: Yes and no. We sit down and work out the tournaments that we would like to play and this season will have to be more fluid than any season I've played before in the sense of how quickly things can change. And we've accepted that. We've planned as best we can.
Tyzz and I have full trust in my extended team with my physio and my trainer, that my body can withstand a lot of tennis. It can withstand the travel and the grind that can become the tour.
In saying that, our decisions, as they were in 2020, will always be prioritized by the health of all of us and we're just going to have to be fluid this season and work with what we can.
WTA Insider: How's life with your new addition?
Barty: My house is very messy [laughs]. It's been amazing. Origi's been a nice addition to our little wolf pack. She's got a hell of a character. She's a menace. She's intelligent but she still gets away with a lot because of her puppy eyes.
She adores the boys. They've learned to love her. Not every day - they miss the peace and quiet - but we're a full wolfpack farm for sure.