The biggest misstep for Ashleigh Barty actually came after she won the Wimbledon final.
Scrambling to celebrate with those in her player’s box, she was unaware that the All England Club, in the aftermath of Pat Cash’s 1987 victory and others that followed, installed a discreet gray gate. This allowed champions to avoid the treacherous challenge of scaling the top of the commentary box to gain access.
“Yeah, it was a little bit of a wobbly step there,” Barty said in her on-court interview. “I probably just should have taken the elegant route, but that’s OK.”
There are many different roads to the top, but Barty has never been afraid to take the wobbly, unconventional path.
She’s been the world’s No.1-ranked player for essentially two years now, but she’s heard the whispers – those who questioned how someone who didn’t play tennis for nearly a year when the pandemic raged remained so far above the fray.
On Saturday, Barty answered any doubts at the All England Club, defeating Karolina Plisova 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3.
Afterward, she crouched on Centre Court, head in hands, tears in her eyes. There was a lot to take in. Barty was far more emotional than when she won the 2019 French Open, and for a number of good reasons.
“It was the most incredible feeling I think I’ve ever experienced on a tennis court,” Barty said in her post-match press conference. “There was certainly disbelief. I think I’ve worked so hard my whole career with my team and with people that mean the most to me to try and achieve my goals and my dreams. To be able to do that today was incredible.”
In winning her second Grand Slam singles title, Barty displayed the skill-set and the dashing presence that has been evolving slowly, surely for a decade. Barty’s an old-school throwback in a 25-year-old, fiercely athletic body, with a breathtaking diversity of game, a variety vastly pleasing to the eye.
It’s a time of fluidity in the women’s game. In the past four Grand Slam events, there have been 16 different players in the semifinals. Yet, Barty has separated herself from the field. She’s 1,843 points ahead of French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen.
Once, long ago, she was seen as a doubles specialist. For the first time, with this Wimbledon championship, Barty has more singles titles than doubles, 12-11.
She’s the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon since Evonne Goolagong in 1980.
“Australians have such a rich history in sport, and I think being able to be a very small part of that is something I always dreamt of, try and create a legacy, try and create a path for young girls and boys to believe in their dreams,” Barty said. “Being able to kind of live through that and learn my lessons along the way has been some of the best parts of my journey.
“To be able to be successful here at Wimbledon, to achieve my biggest dream, has been absolutely incredible. The stars aligned for me over the past fortnight.”
And she joins a select group of versatile players to win both the French Open and Wimbledon this century: Serena Williams, Simona Halep and Garbiñe Muguruza.
While the breakthrough in Paris was a surprise, this was the tournament Barty has ached to win. She’s said so in no uncertain terms.
“I think it takes a lot to come out and make a statement like that, to say this is what I want to do,” Barty’s coach, Craig Tyzzer said. “I think it’s always been on her mind. It’s probably on every tennis player’s mind that this is the tournament they want to win. But to come out and say it is a big step. You put it out there. But Ash has been the sort of person who will put it on the line.
“If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. Yeah, she’s not afraid to try. If you get it wrong, you get it wrong. If you try and fail, that’s still OK.”
And if you succeed, it’s glorious.
“I feel like Wimbledon is where tennis was born essentially," Barty said. "This is where it all started. This is where so many hopes and dreams were kind of born. I think being able to understand that as I played here and played here as a junior, was able to experience that incredible week, and as I’ve said before, some of my toughest moments have come at Wimbledon.
“Now some of my most incredible moments have come here as well. I think it's just an iconic venue. It's an amazing club. To be able to learn so much from this place, I think I’m a very lucky girl.”
The remarkable journey of Barty began exactly 10 years ago, when the 15-year-old Australian won the junior title at Wimbledon, defeating Irina Khromacheva.
Two years later, she and partner Casey Dellacqua reached the doubles finals at three of the four Grand Slams.
After the 2014 US Open, Barty said she was stepping away from tennis. “I needed some time to refresh mentally more than anything,” she said later. “I was a victim of my own success.” Barty was 18.
At what is usually critical time in a player’s development, Barty played cricket, of all things, for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League. Eighteen months later, she came back to win her first WTA-level title, at the 2017 Malaysian Open.
At the age of 23, she became a Grand Slam singles champion, winning the 2019 French Open. She never defended her title, choosing to stay home in Australia during the global pandemic, in what amounted to another 11-month sabbatical. During that time she became the women’s champion at the Brookwater Golf Club.
A week after her win at Roland Garros, she vaulted to the No.1 ranking and, 84 weeks later, she’s still there.
Those 11 months at home might have been the source of this most recent championship run.
“This is the longest we’ve ever been away,” Tyzzer said. “Look, because we missed all of last year; in the end Ash really missed playing tennis, the competition, that side of it, she really put her head down and said, `OK, if this is what we have to do, this is what we have to do.’ She’s accepted it a lot better.”
And so, Barty has now won two of the past seven Grand Slams she’s played.
5 years ago, Ash Barty lost in #Wimbledon qualies, having just started her return to tour.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) July 10, 2021
Since the start of 2017, Barty...
- has won more titles than any player: 12
- is 2nd behind Serena in Winning % (76.2%)
- has the highest % of Finals Reached Per Tournament Played: 28.1% pic.twitter.com/LDk8Chxikf
The unknown factor, of course, is World No.2 Naomi Osaka, who has been following a different path herself. She’s won four of her past nine majors but hasn’t played since withdrawing from the second round at Roland Garros. She’s scheduled to play the Olympics in Tokyo.
Presumably, Osaka will be in the field at the season’s last major, the US Open, setting up the wonderful possibility of a one-on-one matchup for Player of the Year honors.
For the moment, though, Barty is still the one.
“I think from every single match there have been different things that I’ve learned, whether it’s from experience or the tennis itself, the match itself,” Barty said. “I think being open to that growth is a massive part of my life, both personally and professionally. It’s a massive part of my team as well is allowing ourselves to have open conversations, allowing ourselves to have open communication. Sometimes when it’s hard conversations is a big one as well.
“It’s about trusting each other. I think this fortnight here at Wimbledon we’ve been tested multiple times and we’ve been able to come through, all of us, feeling like we’ve really learnt something.”