Power isn’t everything: Ash Barty ushers in the new game plan

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In a power dominant era brought on by the Williams sisters, Ash Barty is changing the meta and ushering in a playstyle that could be the winning formula.

Ashleigh Barty

Ash Barty is one of the most tactical players on the WTA Tour, incorporating a playstyle that mixes in plenty of slices, drop shots, lobs, and pinpoint groundstrokes and serves. In an era of powerful serves going over the 200km/h mark and groundstrokes going over 120km/h, it’s refreshing to see a Grand Slam champion and world No.1 who takes on a different approach to the game. Let’s take a closer look at what makes Ash Barty stand out from the crop like no other.

The Barty slice

She is notorious for her slice game and certainly has one of the best deep slices in the world of women’s tennis. Oftentimes, players are shut out of a rally because they choose to contend with someone who is a bigger hitter than them by trying to match them in power. The deep slice is what Ash uses to negate these hard-hitting forehands that come at her, not only to reset the point but to force her opponent to come up with a different strategy to win the point and challenge them in ways that are unfamiliar to them.

The amazing thing about Ash Barty’s slice is that it’s just as much of an attacking weapon as it is a defensive one. In fact, Barty has achieved many winners on her slice simply because of her superior placement with the shot and expertise in applying enough spin to get it to bounce away from her opponent. Madison Keys said after losing to Ash Barty at the 2022 Australian Open that “everything is coming in at your shoelaces,” referring to the world No.1’s deep backhand slices.

Ashleigh Barty

Drop shot and lob combos

Barty’s awesome slice game has clearly had an impact on how well she is able to dish out a successful drop shot, particularly on the backhand side where her slices really come out. Her understanding and experience in delivering underspin to the ball have led to this amazing arsenal of spinning, swerving shots that are hard to counter. Breaking her opponents’ rhythm and keeping them guessing are just some of the many benefits of the Barty drop shot slice.

The drop shot is not always an outright winner though, especially when you have an opponent that is quick on their feet. This is where Ash Barty’s extraordinary lob skills come into play as she draws in her opponent to the net and sets up a looming shot over their head and into the baseline for an unconventional winner (Hsieh Su-Wei would be proud).
Of course, these skillful lobs are also used to turn defense into attack when up against players that like to come into the net for a more aggressive offensive play. Getting lobbed at the net every time you come in for the volley can be disheartening and can do some real damage to one’s mental game, allowing Ash to make her opponent doubt themselves or search for another mode of attack.

Ashleigh Barty

Pinpoint accurate strokes n’ serves

Let’s make one thing clear, Barty’s groundstrokes and service game are just as lethal and damaging as any of the powerhouse women out there, albeit for different reasons. When it comes to the Barty forehand, she is able to deliver pinpoint accuracy by focusing more on placement and topspin as opposed to power and speed. This shot has allowed her to pass her opponents at the net on countless occasions as she is able to hit cross-court angles and precise down-the-line shots better than most players.

As far as the Barty serve goes, it may not have the highest ace percentage on tour, but it certainly has one of the highest win percentages, and that goes for first and second serves. This is because while Ash’s opponents are often able to return her serves, they are often taken far out wide and opening up the court for the Aussie to hit a clean winner or dominate the rally with a solid headstart. On average, Ash Barty’s first serve speed is around the 170km/h mark with tops of 180km/h, a number that often does not correlate to a dominant service win percentage.

Indeed, many of Ash Barty’s stats don’t add up the same way as other players, and she is indeed ushering in a style of tennis that, while not completely unheard of, does not often see the levels of success that she has brought in. For a champion like Barty, the real stats to look out for are ball placement, drop shot percentage, and slice win percentage. These may not be official stats that are used in professional tennis, but they probably should be, because ordinary stats simply do not tell the full story when it comes to this incredible player from Down Under!

More in-depth analysis of Ashleigh Barty’s tennis game:

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