NOTTINGHAM, Great Britain - For Ashleigh Barty, winning in Nottingham was always meant to be.
Barty, who claimed one of her first titles as a Junior here in 2012 and two years ago returned to the sport on the grass courts of England after a sabbatical, channeled all her fondness for her favorite surface to edge hometown favorite Johanna Konta in a rollercoaster Nature Valley Open final.
WTATennis.com’s Stephanie Livaudais caught up with the 22-year-old after her big win to discuss what makes this surface so special for the Australian.
Q: Congratulations on your title today! What’s going through your head?
A: Obviously it’s really exciting. For the whole week to come together, playing really good tennis all week, and I think this is just the cherry on top. Any time that you can be playing on the final day of the tournament is exciting. It’s certainly nice to come away with the title.
Q: Does a title on grass feel like it’s a long time coming, considering how much you love the surface?
A: No, no, not really, because the season on grass is so short. I made a final last year and I played really well. But it is nice to get the monkey off my back, in a sense.
I know I always come out and say how much I love a grass court - that’s no secret for me, I know that I can play very well on this surface. So it’s certainly nice to put that all together this week.
Q: At the beginning of the clay season you famously said, “Every week on clay is another week closer to grass” - how special is it to grab this one right out of the gate?
A: I have to say that this year I really enjoyed my clay court season, and you know, that kind of came out the wrong way. I was excited for the clay as well, but I had a little bit of extra excitement for the grass. I felt like I played well on clay all season but went a little bit unrewarded. So it’s certainly nice to play well here and come away with the cherries at the end of the day.
Q: Your reaction to winning was very lowkey - just a quiet fistpump.
A: Yeah, I think that’s just me. I don’t really give too much away on court on the best of days. For me it’s a nice achievement, but I know at the end of the day we get to celebrate this week and celebrate today, but in a sense we’re right back to work tomorrow.
It is a very nice reward to have at the end of the week, and we’re super excited. It’s been an amazing week. But I’m very lowkey as it is.
Q: I’m told you’re the first Aussie to win a WTA title on grass this milennium. Did you know that before you came on?
A: Really? That’s really exciting. I know that typically the Aussie men have done well on grass, but obviously all the women have enjoyed it as well. But it’s certainly very nice to have that first one.
Q: What is it about grass that really suits your game?
A: Well when you’re on a grass court you get to use your slice more. I’m really fortunate that my coach Jim Joyce taught me how to hit a slice backhand when I was young, and have that variety in my arsenal.
But not having played on grass a lot growing up, it was just something like, as soon as I stepped on a grass court, I felt comfortable. To me it feels like very traditional tennis, you know, it’s how it used to be. I certainly love to bring a little bit of that complete game, old school tennis, back into the grass courts.
Q: Your serve has been really firing this week - have you been working on it lately?
A: I know my serve is always there, it just has to come together. I think when you serve well on grass and you hit your spots, you get rewarded. And I feel like I’ve been able to do that all week. I’ve served confidently all week, and haven’t been broken too many times which is really exciting. It really has all come together this week and I’ve been very lucky to play so many matches on a beautiful center court here in Nottingham.
Q: What was going through your mind when Konta won the second set, and then when she started coming back in the third?
A: I think there wasn’t much in the first or in the second, at all. And in the third, when I got that break, against Jo she’s an absolute world class player and you cannot take your foot off the pedal at all. I didn’t play a bad game, I just made a few mistakes - and she’s back in the match. So I knew that I had to keep focus and just keep doing the right thing regardless of what the score is.
Q: What are you most proud of this week?
A: I think just the real complete sense of consistency through the week. I think I found that last year and now during this week I felt super comfortable on the court in every match. I was very clear with what I wanted to do, and I was able to execute and play well.
Q: Obviously, we’re two years on from your comeback to tennis, which kicked off here in England on the grass courts - does it feel like you’ve come full circle?
A: Yeah, it’s absolutely a full circle moment for me. When I came back, I decided to start on the grass. I did it for me because I know that I feel comfortable on the surface, and I’m extremely happy on the surface. And I started very well.
I think it’s been an amazing two years - last year was phenomenal, and I feel like I’m trying do the best that I can to play consistent tennis week in and week out.
Q: What’s next on your schedule?
A: We’re actually in a car tonight heading down to Birmingham and getting ready to go again. (laughs) Right back at work tomorrow!
Q: But will you get to celebrate the win?
A: Oh yeah, with my team we know that we’ll get to have a little celebration tonight. Maybe we’ll go to have a beer when we get to Birmingham. But no, for me it’s a really exciting week.
I’m not one for big celebrations as it is, but we’ll find time for a beer tonight for sure.