Indigenous inspiration: Ash Barty’s journey to world number one

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It takes more than winning Grand Slams to reach the number one spot. Consistent performance and smaller victories are all taken into account to get there.

In recent times, the WTA Tour has become a realm of tennis that is notorious for constantly alternating champions where a single player can never remain at the top for too long. Currently, Indigenous Australian Ash Barty sits at the top spot of the rankings ladder. With two Grand Slam singles titles under her belt, let’s take a closer look at her journey to world number one.

Ashleigh Barty Cincinnati
Ashleigh Barty with her 13th career title, the 2021 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

Early success in doubles

Unlike most players on Tour, Ash Barty’s success in tennis initially took off in doubles rather than singles, as she achieved huge milestones at a young age. In 2013, at just 16 years old, Barty and her doubles partner Casey Dellacqua reached the finals of three Grand Slam tournaments to secure the runner-up prizes thereof.

Following the footsteps of Indigenous Australian legend Evonne Goolagong and her doubles partner Helen Gourlay, Ash Barty and Casey Dellacqua became the first Australian duo to reach the finals of an Australian Open since 1977. In what was an astonishing year of tennis for the Aussie teen, Barty skyrocketed almost 100 ranks in doubles to not only crack the Top 100, but crack the Top 50 for a rank of No.46.

Tennis hiatus and singles breakthrough

At the end of 2014, Ash Barty put her tennis journey on hold in order to “experience life as a normal teenaged girl.” During this time, Barty did what any Aussie would do in such a situation and took up cricket for a couple of years. Impressively, she was quite successful in the sport and even played in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) where she competed with some of the best women’s cricketers in Australia.

Once 2016 rolled around, Barty was ready to make a comeback in tennis after getting her mind right and showing the world her multi-talents in sport while she was at it. Returning to the ITF Circuit in flying colors, she won three out of five low-level 25k tournaments she competed in and quickly returned to the WTA Tour mid-year as she qualified for the Nottingham Open.

Ashleigh Barty as a runner-up to Petra Kvitova in the 2017 final of the Aegon Classic Birmingham.

Starting the year 2017 with a few wins at the Australian Open and exiting at the third-round, she got the ball rolling again with her first-ever WTA singles title at the Malaysian Open as a qualifier. This victory meant Ash Barty would enter the Top 100 for the first time in her career, where she continued to climb the rankings by reaching the final at the Aegon Classic Birmingham.

Throughout the remainder of the year, the young Aussie was making big statements on court by taking down Top 10 ranked players on several occasions, including Venus Williams, Johanna Konta, and Karolina Pliskova. Indeed, Ash Barty was proving herself through consistently good performances in many tournaments. Ending the 2017 season at world No.17, the rising star from downunder was showing the world that you don’t need major titles to skyrocket the ranks, just consistent efforts and perseverance.

Grand Slam triumph and world number one

Coco Vandeweghe Ashleigh Barty
Coco Vandeweghe of the United States & Ashleigh Barty of Australia with the winners trophy during the doubles trophy ceremony at the 2018 US Open Grand Slam tennis tournament

The next few years to come were the most significant in bridging Barty’s incredible foundation of WTA success with sealing the deal for the number one spot. In 2018, Ash won her first major event, and in the same manner as her early success in tennis panned out, she did it in the doubles first. Partnering with American Coco Vandeweghe, Ash Barty got her first taste of Grand Slam victory by securing the 2018 US Open doubles title.

Making her Top 10 debut in 2019, Barty won her very first Premier Mandatory title by securing the Miami Open where she defeated Karolina Pliskova in the final. Entering the French Open that year as the eighth seed, Ash Barty put on a dominant performance to win the championships without dropping more than two sets, becoming the first Australian to secure the title since Margaret Court in 1973.

Ashleigh Barty Miami 2019
Having returned to tennis just a little over three years earlier, Ashleigh Barty defeated former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova in the final of the 2019 Miami Open.

Upon winning her first Grand Slam, the Indigenous sensation jumped the ranks once again to reach world No.2, just shy of the top spot. She didn’t stick around there for long, however, because the mighty Barty continued her awesome streak of astounding tennis by winning the following Birmingham Classic. This victory granted her a much-deserved ranking of world number one after showing consistently good results in every tournament she entered leading up to this achievement.

Ashleigh Barty Roland Garros champion
Ashleigh Barty of Australia at the Champions photo shoot of the 2019 Roland Garros Grand Slam tennis tournament

Ash Barty became the first Australian, and even more so, the first Indigenous player since Evonne Goolagong Cawley to reach the WTA singles ranking of world No.1. Ending the year 2019 at the top spot, Barty also won the WTA Player of the Year Award and became the first Australian to receive the honor. At this point, there was no denying what Ash Barty had achieved for Australian tennis and more importantly, for Indigenous Australian tennis.

It’s no surprise that Ash became the National Indigenous Ambassador for Tennis Australia, taking on the role of promoting the sport in Indigenous communities and encouraging more diverse participation. “I’m a very proud Indigenous woman and I think for me taking on this role is something very close to my heart,” Barty stated upon taking up the position.

Ash Barty Wimbledon champion
Ashleigh Barty of Australia with the champions trophy after winning the final of the 2021 Wimbledon Championships Grand Slam tennis tournament

While Barty’s Grand Slam victory in singles certainly helped her in securing the No.1 ranking, we can see by reflecting on her journey that much of her success throughout the WTA rankings were a direct result of her solid results in each tournament she entered no matter how big or small they were. Also, whether she won the title or not was of little concern, because she would always make the third round or beyond for the majority of her events and as a result would either maintain or jump the ranks.

Now a two-time Grand Slam singles champion and maintaining her rank as the world No.1, Ash Barty is the new face of Indigenous tennis for Australia, carrying the legacy of the legendary Evonne Goolagong Cawley. With the upcoming Australian Open set to take off in the Aussie summer of 2022, we hope to see Ash Barty playing at her best on home soil and with the cheers of a very supportive home crowd. (photos courtesy of Jimmie48)

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