DOHA, February 25, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty enjoys being pushed and challenged by her fellow competitors on the WTA Tour. It’s in the Aussie’s blood. Now, as Barty resumes her quest of staying atop the tennis rankings, playing this week at the Qatar Total Open in Doha, Qatar, the thing she finds most important – exceeding wins and losses – is improving each day.
“I think first and foremost, there’s no pressure for me to stay as No. 1,” said Barty, during a media sit down Sunday, two days before taking the court for her first match in the WTA Premier 5 tournament against 68th-ranked German qualifier Laura Siegemund, whom she easily defeated 6-3, 6-2. The native of Ipswich, Australia, is off to a fine 10-2 start but had been idle since losing to the eventual Australian Open champion, American Sofia Kenin, in the semifinal round at Melbourne. Earlier this season, Barty lifted the trophy at Adelaide, her first title win in her home country.
“I think, obviously, all of the girls that are pushing me, challenging me, we’re making each other better tennis players, and I think that’s the best thing is we all challenge each other every single day,” said Barty. “All I’m trying to do is improve every single day and regardless of whether I stay at that No. 1 ranking or I don’t, I try and do the right things every single day – and it’s been an incredible ride for me since I came back into the sport.”
Barty took a well-documented break from tennis after the 2014 US Open that lasted almost two years. She returned to professional tennis in 2016 after having enjoyed a successful stint as an all-rounder for the Brisbane Heat cricket team. The 23-year-old suggested the skills she’s honed on the tennis court benefited her during her cricket sabbatical and that cricket helped her tennis “in a bizarre way.”
As Barty remembers, “Obviously, I had a different phase during my journey and through my life of playing different sports and different things like that, but it’s been amazing coming back into the sport. I’ve had a great three years almost now fully back on tour. So, it’s been fantastic.”
Cheers to our Australian summer. Wouldn’t want to share it with any other team 🥰 pic.twitter.com/92D3WYLtBu
— Ash Barty (@ashbarty) January 30, 2020
After her run in Melbourne, Barty enjoyed some downtime at home in the Australian summer. She was originally scheduled to return to the WTA Tour in time for last week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships but pulled out ahead of the start of the tournament because of a foot injury. Now, according to Barty, she feels good and is ready to resume playing.
“I needed to have an extra few days off just to let my body settle,” said Barty. “We had a couple little niggles going on after the Australian Open.”
Speaking of the year’s first major, looking back Barty felt it was “very exciting” even though she didn’t get to lift the Daphne Ackhurst Memorial Cup given to the champion. “Obviously, it was disappointing not to have been there on the final Saturday, but a semifinal of a Slam doesn’t happen every single week. So, I think all-in-all, though there was disappointment, there was positivity. But, yeah, it was a fantastic month.”
— Ash Barty (@ashbarty) February 23, 2020
Barty said that while she “would have loved” to have played last week (in Dubai) as well as this week in Doha, it wasn’t worth the risk of further injuring her foot and derailing the rest of her season. “I’ve never played either of these tournaments, so it’s kind of a new thing for me – but, yeah, it was nice to spend some time at home with my family.
“Obviously, parts of my family were with me at the Australian Open and my sister wasn’t. So, it was nice to catch up with my niece and nephew at home, who had been watching and kind of enjoyed that month with me. But it was nice.”
After leaving her tennis racquets bagged up for about 10 days, Barty finally got back on court and put in some training time with her team before leaving Australia. She arrived in Doha refreshed and ready to encounter a new tournament experience.
“It’s rare that we kind of get that,” she said. “We play the same tournaments and the same kind of calendar throughout the year. So, it’s nice to experience something new, something fresh and really exciting.”
— Qatar Tennis Federation (@QatarTennis) February 23, 2020