Pam Shriver was sitting in the cramped broadcast booth on Centre Court this past June when Ashleigh Barty walked out to play Carla Suarez Navarro in what would be the Spaniard’s final match at Wimbledon.

After a 6-1 first set, it looked as though the match was going to end quickly. But Suarez Navarro pushed Barty to a tiebreak and leveled the match. Somehow, Barty rallied and won another 6-1 frame to advance to the second round. The comeback left a deep impression on Shriver, a hall-of-famer and 21-time Grand Slam doubles champion.

“She didn’t look her best almost the whole tournament,” Shriver said, “but she got better as the matches went along. I feel it was her athleticism, and her experience as a major winner and No.1 player brought her to the finish line.”

Barty wouldn’t drop a set over the next five matches and defeated Karolina Pliskova in a three-set final that brought her a second major title. That was her season’s highlight. Exhausted from a six-month road trip, Barty didn’t play after the US Open. She says she’s fresh and rejuvenated and fit after a long break at home in Australia – good thing, because her first match of 2022 is an absolute blockbuster.

It’s Barty versus American teenager Coco Gauff in a Wednesday second-round match at the Adelaide International (7 p.m. local, 3:30 a.m. ET). The world No.1 takes on the rising star some believe will one day rise to that level.

The WTA’s Player of the year in 2021, Barty is the favorite to win title at the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 16. She has now been the No.1-ranked player for 102 consecutive weeks.

Gauff, meanwhile, was a 6-2, 6-1 winner Tuesday over Norwegian qualifier Ulrikke Eikeri in 63 minutes. Still only 17 and ranked No.22, Gauff was masterful in the critical moments, saving all three break points against her serve and breaking Eikeri on all four of the break points offered.

The two have met once before and, technically, it was recorded as one of Barty’s eight losses last year. It happened in the Rome quarterfinal. With Barty leading 6-4, 2-1, she retired with a right arm injury she says has bothered her  throughout her career. The look on Gauff’s face when they embraced at net was one of sadness and empathy.

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There’s another wrinkle, too. Barty’s first victory of the new year came Tuesday night in doubles – over Gauff. The Australian team of Barty and Storm Sanders beat Gauff and Caty McNally 6-0, 7-6(4). So the two singles combatants have already taken the measure of each other.

During her reign on top, Barty has comported herself with poise and grace.

“Being the World No.1 is something I am very proud of, but my ranking doesn’t change the way I am,” Barty said after she finished on top for the third year in a row. “I try and be a good person and do the right thing, regardless of the number next to my name.”

Last year this time, some folks were still grumbling about that standing, pointing to the four months when COVID-19 caused a freeze in the rankings and Barty chose to remain home for the remainder of the 2020 season after the Australian swing.

“I think she responded well to all the comments about should there be an asterisk regarding her No.1 ranking,” Shriver said. “She came out in 2021 and backed it up by winning the entire year. She was 42-8, with five titles.”

After the US Open, Barty spent that time catching up with family and friends after a grueling six-month road trip. It was an echo of a previous timeout that, after some anxious moments on tour, gave her an equilibrium that ultimately kept her in the game of tennis.


Even after enjoying the success of advancing to three of the 2013 Grand Slam doubles finals with partner Casey Dellacqua, the 18-year-old Barty grew homesick and sometimes grappled with depression. After losing in the first round of the 2014 US Open, she stepped away from tennis for nearly two years.

Surrounded by family, Barty famously became a professional cricket player, for the Brisbane Heat. As time went on, she discovered she missed tennis and in June 2016, returned to play an ITF $50,000 event in Eastbourne. She won six of seven matches (including qualifying), then five of six at Nottingham. Barty wound up winning 16 of 20 matches for the year, laying a foundation for what was to come.

Ranked No.325 at the end of the 2016 season, Barty was up to No.17 a year later. Late in the season at Wuhan, Barty defeated No.7 Johanna Konta, No.13 Agnieszka Radwanska, No.4, Karolina Pliskova and No.10 Jelena Ostapenko in succession before falling to Caroline Garcia in the final. In 2018, she won her second WTA title at Nottingham and had a nice hard-court run in late summer before taking the year-end WTA Elite Trophy event in Zhuhai. The breakthrough French Open title came in 2019, and Barty had established herself as a major player.

Gauff is rapidly joining that elite class. One of the keys to her success is a strict, stubborn focus on what’s next. Two days before her first match in Adelaide, she was conducting an interview when a reporter asked her what she thought about playing Barty in a second-round match.

There was a long pause.

“Yeah, I didn’t even look at the draw,” she said. “I knew I played a qualifier, but … It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK.

“For me, I focus on the match at the time. I don’t look ahead to who I play next. At the end of the day, you’ve got to win that match to get to whoever’s next.”

And that would be Barty.

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Barty’s long break at the end of 2021 included an engagement announcement with longtime partner Garry Kissik, a PGA trainee professional golfer.

“It’s definitely been nice to have some time at home after such a long year,” Barty said. “I did feel rested until preseason started a few weeks ago.”

That grueling preseason, under the eye of coach Craig Tyzzer, is the foundation for the coming year. This is their seventh season together.

“Part of her success goes back to having a consistent team,” Shriver said. “That’s what you look for these days. Continuity. Longevity in with a coach in women’s tennis is three to five years. Six is unusual, but it bodes well for her 2022 season.

“There are a lot of good signs coming out of Australia.”