MIAMI, FL, USA - The milestones keep coming for Ashleigh Barty. The 22-year-old consolidated her impending Top 10 debut on Monday but taking home the biggest title of her career on Saturday, defeating No.7 Karolina Pliskova 7-6(1), 6-3 to win the Miami Open, one of the tour's four Premier Mandatory events.
If we hesitate to refer to Barty's title run as a full-circle moment - the prodigious Barty cane back to tennis in 2016 after a brief hiatus to refresh her mind and play professional cricket - it is only because all signs point to her Miami run being a stepping stone to something greater. After finishing the 2018 season by winning the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, her biggest title before this week, the Gold Coast native has enjoyed the best season-start of her career. She finishes the spring hardcourt season with an 18-3 record and will rise to No.9 on Monday, becoming the first Australian to make her Top 10 singles debut since Sam Stosur in 2010.
Barty joined the WTA Insider Podcast to reflect on her winning week in Miami and the long journey back. Needless to say, she got by with a little help from her friends.
Listen to the full interview with Barty below:
WTA Insider: I remember in Brisbane a few years ago, you were just starting your comeback, and I asked you what would make this phase of your career more enjoyable for you. You said winning. Here we are a few years later and you've won the biggest title of your career and enjoying the best start to a season. How are you processing all this?
Barty: Yes, it's truly remarkable. It really is. For me, having a successful career is winning and having success.
I think the most important thing is that all the work that's done behind it and all of the preparation, the amazing team of people that I have around me, that we all have the same goal: to have success and to do everything possible in order to give myself the best chance of having success. Whether it happens or not is a different story. But I know that my team and I are certainly dotting every I and crossing every T and trying to do the very best that we can to make sure that I come out here and enjoy my tennis and play a good level.
WTA Insider: What are the things that are so important in the minutia of what your team does, the things that people don't see, that have been key to your success.
Barty: I think for me it all starts around how I want to play on the court, and all the things we work on the practice court driven around my style of game. And yes, it's a little bit different to everyone else. Everyone has a unique style and unique practices and different sessions.
Then we step back to my strength and conditioning. It's also designed to suit my style of tennis, to have the endurance to play my style. And then with physios, making sure that I keep my body in as good a nick as I can. And it all ties together and I'm so lucky that everyone in my team is on the same page. We're very much driven for the same goal and I have a very, very good bunch of people that are genuine, that are quality people, and that absolutely know they're doing.
WTA Insider: You talk about "Ashleigh Barty tennis". When we talk about Brand Barty, the style of game you play, how have you seen it evolve over the years?
Barty: I think probably the biggest difference is just the amount of experience that I've had, and that's natural, that when you're first put in those situations you feel extremely vulnerable and exposed and in all of these different types of things.
Now I feel ultimately comfortable when I walk out onto a match court regardless of whether it's a first round or final, regardless of who I'm playing. I respect my opponents, but also I never play their reputation. I try and play as good a tennis as I need to, I have to, I can on the day of the match, and I think it holds me in pretty good stead.
WTA Insider: Was there a moment, a specific match, or a specific run that you had since your comeback where the switch was flicked to where you believed you belonged with the elite?
Barty: Yes and no. I think it was just gradual. I think once I won my first title in Kuala Lumpur it was a little bit of a monkey off the back. And I think from there I've had a different attitude in a way. I felt like I had to prove myself to people and I'd done that. And even though I think now looking back I didn't have to prove anything, I never have to prove anything to anyone, it's about my team and my journey and my experiences.
Now it's a very different perspective. It's a pretty beautiful thing looking back at the journey that I've had.
WTA Insider: Are you a player that plays with a chip on your shoulder or is that not something that is part of the Ash Barty make-up?
Barty: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.
WTA Insider: On Monday you'll be the only player on the men's or the women's tour that's ranked in the Top 10 in both singles and doubles. You played a lot of matches here, having made the semifinals in doubles with Victoria Azarenka. How have you come to balance that?
Barty: I wasn't feeling physically perfect today, but found a way to get through. I think the carrot for me, I suppose, in doubles, is how much I enjoy it. I love it. I've had some amazing partners over the last few years.
I learned a lot about doubles and about the geography of the court and different tactics from Casey [Dellacqua]. She taught me so much on the doubles court. Taught me about the tour. And I think even now I miss her the most. I really do.
But I've been able to find ways to enjoy playing with other partners and really develop relationships off the court so that when we get onto the doubles court we gel pretty quickly.
WTA Insider: What's the best piece of advice Casey gave you?
Barty: I mean I could write a book about it, to be honest. I think probably for me it's more off court and the way that Case taught me how to experience the tour. To enjoy it, embrace it. Because I fought it. Before I stopped playing I was fighting the tennis lifestyle. I didn't think it was for me.
Since coming back, obviously I've learned to embrace it and enjoy it and just take it on board a little bit more. But yeah, Case is a hell of a person.
WTA Insider: Speaking of enjoying and embracing, the clay court season is coming up next for you, which is always a little bit of a tricky section of the season. How do you look ahead to the clay court season?
Barty: Yeah, to be honest, I haven't even thought about it at all. I think that we've been so present in these last few weeks of trying to enjoy the moment here and enjoy Miami and do the best that I can. And I think that's an amazing thing, is not worrying about thinking in the future or the past, is staying so present. And that's why I think I've done so well this week and really had an amazing fortnight.
But yeah I think certainly now that we get to sit back and know that the hardcourt season's over, we have Fed Cup in a few weeks, and then we get our socks dirty. And I think for me it's a challenging part of the year but with the challenge comes a new perspective and a new opportunity for me to go out and try and do something that I hadn't done before.
WTA Insider: Last year you said every week of the clay season means one week closer to the grass season. Do you think this clay season might feel a little bit different because, for all intents and purposes, your game is there?
Barty: Yeah, I think so, and I think I just have to continue to learn about clay court tennis. I haven't actually been overly exposed to it. I mean I play four or five weeks on it in the year.
I grew up on hardcourts, train on hardcourts in Australia, and I think that's the beauty of it is I have a month and a half, a two month stretch of tennis where I can just continue to learn. And yes, if results come my way great. If they don't, no worries. We continue to try and put our head down, chip away every day, and try to get better.
WTA Insider: Last question for you. All the big titles of the hardcourt season have been won by the 22 and unders, whether it's Naomi in Australia, Belinda in Dubai, Andreescu in Indian Wells, and now you. What do you think is the takeaway from that stat?
Barty: Yeah it's phenomenal. It is. And I think the women's game is becoming so strong and the depth is getting so much better across the Top 20, 30, 40, 50. There are genuine chances of those girls winning titles regardless of who they're up against.
I think that's the challenge for the Top 5, the Top 10, to continue to try and have that dominance over players I suppose, but on any given day anyone can beat anyone. And that's a pretty awesome thing about the sport.