World No.1 Ashleigh Barty will be unpacking her career-best 2021 season for years to come. After sitting out because of the pandemic for 11 months, Barty, 25, picked up right where she left off to win five titles, including her second major, at Wimbledon, and two WTA 1000s, in Miami and Cincinnati, to solidify her spot at the top of the game and qualify for her second straight WTA Finals.
We look back at the moments that defined Barty's season:
Quick off the blocks
To watch Barty in her first tournament back since the 2020 Qatar Total Open, you wouldn't have known she had been away. Starting her season at the Yarra Valley Classic in Melbourne, Barty took home her ninth career title and second on home soil by defeating Garbiñe Muguruza 7-6, 6-4.
After her perfect preparation for the Australian Open, Barty kicked off her Melbourne campaign with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Danka Kovinic and marched to the quarterfinals without losing a set. Facing Karolina Muchova for a spot in her second consecutive Australian Open semifinal, Barty let a 6-1, 2-0 lead slip and bowed out in a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 loss.
Turning Point: Miami
With her loss at the Australian Open followed by an opening-round exit in Adelaide, Barty left Australia on a rare two-match losing streak. Barty's six-month road trip began with a rocky start. Flight delays and cancellations led to a near 50-hour trek from Brisbane to Miami, and she was a point away from bowing out in her first match.
"The flight over here, I swear it was the world telling me I shouldn't be leaving Australia," Barty said jokingly.
Facing Kristina Kucova in her opening match, Barty was down match point at 3-5, 30-40 but hit a clean forehand return winner down the line. Crisis averted, Barty would go on to win the title with wins against Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka, along with a trio of Top 10 wins over Aryna Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina and Bianca Andreescu to win the title.
Barty's Miami run set the stage for her dominant season. It hushed the whispers - both externally and internally - about the state of her game after nearly 12 months away from competition, and the doubts about her position at the top of the game. And perhaps most importantly, Barty's Miami fortnight would foreshadow her ability to handle adversity and make quick adjustments to whatever was thrown her way.
Barty carries her momentum into the clay season
Buoyed by her Miami win, Barty would lose just one completed match in Europe. Once again, she defeated three Top 10 opponents en route to a title, winning Stuttgart with wins over Karolina Pliskova, Svitolina, and Sabalenka to capture her second clay title. In Madrid, she made her third final in four tournaments, this time losing out in a tight third set against Sabalenka, 0-6, 6-3, 4-6.
Injury ends Roland Garros bid, casts doubts on grass
With her tennis and confidence clicking, the only thing that could derail the World No.1 on clay was her body, as her clay season ended with a disappointing pair of retirements. A right arm injury ended her quarterfinal showdown with Coco Gauff in Rome, but it was a shock hip injury that ended her bid for a second Roland Garros title.
Practicing over the weekend before the tournament, Barty injured her hip when she landed after a routine serving practice. Making her return to Court Philippe Chatrier for the first time since her 2019 triumph, Barty scrapped through a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win over Bernarda Pera in the first round but retired in the next round to Magda Linette.
The severity of the injury cast severe doubt on Barty's beloved grass season. Unable to play a tournament ahead of Wimbledon, expectations for a title run were understandably tempered.
Wimbledon dream comes true
Wearing a Fila kit inspired by her friend and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley's run to the Wimbledon title 50 years ago, Barty lost just two sets en route to the one title she openly dreamed about, defeating Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-7,6-3 in a memorable final. The title, her fourth of the season, made her the only player on tour to win a title on all three surfaces this season.
"To think of where we were two days before playing in Paris to where we are right now, it's chalk and cheese," Barty told WTA Insider after the win. After the dust had settled on Centre Court, Barty revealed she asked her team to keep the details of her Paris injury from her.
"It kind of all came down to this penultimate week leading up to this tournament where there was seriously that cloud hanging over me, of not knowing whether I was going to be able to play or not," Barty said. "And I'm thinking, 'Gosh, I just want to wear this outfit. I just want to experience this. I just want to enjoy it,' because that was the thinking and the drive behind it was to enjoy it and to have fun with it.
"The stars aligned in a really incredible, remarkable way - that it's Evonne's 50th anniversary and my 10th anniversary from the juniors. How the stars aligned sometimes is scarily close to how the stars aligned in Paris as well."
Cincinnati cements 2021 dominance
There would be no post-Wimbledon hangover on tour for Barty. After winning Roland Garros in 2019, Barty turned around and won her next tournament in Birmingham. She did the same after Wimbledon, taking her fifth title of the season with her second WTA 1000 title and first at the Western & Southern Open.
In the most dominant title run of her season, Barty did not lose a set in Cincinnati, defeating Heather Watson, Azarenka, Barbora Krejcikova, Angelique Kerber and Jil Teichmann for her 13th career title.
At the US Open, Barty held a 5-2 lead in the deciding set against Shelby Rogers before losing 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(5) in the third round. It was a disappointing first-week exit for Barty, but as she had throughout the season, her sportsmanship after the match and perspective on the small margins in the sport left her in good stead.
"I think back to the very first match that I played on this trip," Barty said. "I was 5-2 down in the third set in the first round of Miami. Tennis has a funny way of evening things out, doesn't it?
"I think I've played a bunch of matches this year where I've come from a break down or late in the set, opponents trying to serve out the match. Sometimes you get to-and-fro. You can't win every single tennis match that you play.
"I'm proud of myself and my team for all the efforts we've put in in the last six months. It's been pretty incredible. I don't think we could have asked for much more honestly. I wouldn't change a thing."
Ash Barty on Shelby Rogers, before running into her in the hall after her press conference.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) September 5, 2021
“I know regardless of the result, it never changes our relationship, and that’s really special when you’ve got someone who is just a class act off and on the court.”#USOpen pic.twitter.com/ZgclOo1GLz
Barty's 42-8 record and five titles lead the tour in 2021. Only one other player, Barbora Krejcikova, has won more than two so far. No player has won more than five titles in a season since Serena Williams won seven in 2014. This is the fifth consecutive season in which Barty has won a title, the longest active streak on tour.
Since returning to No.1 in September 2019, Barty has played 19 tournaments, winning seven titles and finishing as runner-up twice. Despite being sidelined for nearly 12 months, her seven titles is tied with Aryna Sabalenka for the most over that span and her nine finals appearances lead the tour.
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