Ashleigh Barty was raised in a small, quaint suburb in Queensland, Australia. Today, halfway around the world, that small-town Aussie girl has won the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaś.
It has been a long journey to this moment for the 22-year-old, who has been playing tennis at the professional level since she was 14. She has had a complicated relationship with the sport in the past, including stepping away from it for two years from 2014 to 2016. The life of a pro tennis player had caused her to burn out — she was traveling for 338 days out of the year in 2013.
“I needed to take a break,” Barty explained to the media after the biggest win of her career. “Otherwise I don’t think that I’d still be playing the game, to be honest, it gave me an opportunity to go and relax and see what it was like to kind of have a normal life.”
When she decided to return, however, she rediscovered the passion for tennis that had driven her to compete from such a early age. It wouldn’t be easy — nothing worth doing ever is — but the youngest of three daughters to Josie and Robert was determined to live out her dream of playing tennis.
“I certainly feel like I’m a very different person,” Barty said of herself after her break from tennis. “I feel like I’m a more complete player, I’m a better player, and I’ve been able to put myself into more high-pressure situations and into bigger matches.”
Her dream reached its peak in the biggest match of her career on an overcast Saturday afternoon when she took to Stadium Court to play in the final of the 2019 Miami Open. She was on the biggest stage she had ever commanded, and my how she commanded it — defeating Karolina Pliskova for the title 7-6(1), 6-3.
Pliskova was the favorite going into the match, with her 21 wins on the year the most on tour coming into the Miami Open. Barty wasn’t too far behind, however, with 17 — and had already clinched her rise into the top 10 with her semifinal victory.
“There are zero expectations,” explained Barty after being asked if she had expected to win. “I think all is it is an opportunity for me to continue to try and get better every day and to enjoy the journey that we’re on.”
To start the match, it seemed as if the 6’1” Czech’s power was going to be too much for Barty, as she broke early on to go up 2-1. Pliskova consolidating that break put Barty in a 1-3 hole, but that is when the switch flicked on for the Australian. She loosened up and began dictating points with her patented “Ash Barty” style of play.
She began absorbing and redirecting the punishing forehands of Pliskova, scoring her own winners and knocking the former World No. 1 off her game. Barty broke back to level at 3-3 and the two players held from there to force a tiebreak. The 12th seeded Barty ran away with the tiebreak, winning it decisively 7-1 to take the opening frame — halfway to the biggest title of her career.
Going into the match, a great deal was said about how Barty would handle the unrelenting serve of Pliskova. After all, the 2016 US Open finalist had tallied 146 aces in the season coming into Miami. In the end, however, it was Barty who had the superior serve, striking 15 aces to Pliskova’s six.
“It’s always been an important part of my game to allow myself to get in control of points early on,” said the new World No. 9 said of her serve.
Barty was in a state of cruise control with her serve in the next set. In the second, she landed an incredible 89 percent of her first serves and won 14 out of 16 of those points. She was steamrolling her more experienced opponent, frustrating a fatigued Pliskova, whose error count was ratcheting up.
“I was tired, super tired,” Pliskova explained when asked what went wrong in the match. “I think she played well, so it’s completely that I played bad, but on the other hand for sure I could have played better [if i had not been tired].”
Barty would get three match points as a visibly exhausted Pliskova fell down 0-40. She would only need one and — with a shot from Pliskova going long — Barty hunched over in excitement, letting out a scream that represented the exhaustion and jubilation and pain and relief that had accompanied her to the moment.
“It’s just been an amazing fortnight, it really has,” a beaming Barty explained. “If [my team] keeps putting ourselves in these positions and keep giving myself the opportunity to continue to grow as a person and as a player — I think that’s the most exciting thing.”
Ash Barty has been on a long tennis journey for someone her age, and like every journey, it has had its ups and downs. But in between these moments, are the ones that define her as a person and not just a player — a humble young woman over 9000 miles from home just simply enjoying the ride.
“That’s why I love the sport. You have these amazing moments and you have these heartbreaking moments, but the journey in the middle is pretty bloody good.”
Picture by Alex Broadway/SWpix.com