MIAMI, FL, USA - Ashleigh Barty joined a generation of young stars who've captured the biggest hardcourt titles of 2019 with a stunning run to the Miami Open title, but was reluctant to compare her road to that of rivals like Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka or BNP Paribas Open winner Bianca Andreescu.
"I have had a very unique journey," she said after an emphatic win over Karolina Pliskova at the Hard Court Stadium. "I think every tennis player that walks on the court has had a different journey and different experiences.
"I think, for me, it's been very much a personal development and a development of my game over the last two or three years to put me in this position."
Barty is, of course, referring to what she herself calls a "well-documented" story, where the former Wimbledon junior champion stepped away from the sport at just 18 years of age, opting to play cricket during an 18 month hiatus.
"I think for me it was a bit of a no-brainer. I needed to take the break. Otherwise I don't think that I'd still be playing the game, to be honest," she admitted on Saturday.
"I think it gave me an opportunity to go and relax and see kind of what it was like to kind of have a normal life, because the tennis tour and the tennis life is very unique. It's very different. It's not for everybody."
With emotional fulfillment, motivation soon followed and she returned to tennis in early 2016. Her full-scale comeback began a year later and she enjoyed immediate success, winning her first career title in Kuala Lumpur and ending the season ranked inside the Top 20.
"It was a time that I think I found myself a little bit more as a person and I met an amazing group of girls and a new circle of friends, I suppose. But I think tennis was always my calling.
"I think I needed to take some time to step back and realize how much that I wanted it and how much that I do love it. I came back with a different perspective, I really did. I have an amazing team around me with people that give their time and energy and care for me, push me and drive me to try and be my very best. I think we are starting to see that now."
That team, led by coach Craig Tyzzer, have honed Barty's eponymous all-court style to tremendous effect of late, ending 2018 with the Henqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai title and starting 2019 with a runner-up finish at the Sydney International and a first Grand Slam singles quarterfinal in Melbourne.
"I'm not going to lie. I think Sydney hurt this year, losing in the final. That hurt, for sure. I mean, I think that's why I keep coming back. That's why I love the sport is that you have these amazing moments and you have these heartbreaking moments. But the journey in the middle is pretty bloody good."
The jorney continues for Barty, who had a full circle fortnight in Miami, scoring a first win over nemesis Petra Kvitova and outplaying Pliskova with an explosive mix of power and finesse, calmly clinching victory in two decisive sets.
"I think first and foremost I feel like my game has become more well-rounded. I feel like I'm more exposed to pressure situations and am learning how to deal with it and how to enjoy it more.
"When I can go out there and play my brand of tennis, that's when it becomes most exciting and most enjoyable for me. I'm being able to do that more and more often, and I think the best thing is I do feel like I belong on this tour.
"I feel like when I play my best, I'm good enough to match it with the very best in the world. I just need to keep giving myself the opportunity to challenge myself and play against the best in the world.
"Some days it will go in your favor and some days it won't. I think the challenge and the beauty is to just keep going and putting one foot in front of the other and enjoying the journey."