Australian tennis hasn’t had much to smile about in recent years – the glory days of Newcombe, Laver, Roche, Cash, Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt and Margaret Smith Court all belong to a bygone era.
While Nick Kyrgios has been grabbing the headlines again this month for all the wrong reasons, a fresh wind is blowing through women’s tennis in Oz in the shape of petite Ashleigh Barty from Ipswich, Queensland.
The 21-year-old right hander, who is part Aboriginal – remember Evonne Goolagong Cawley? – and also plays professional cricket, started 2017 ranked outside the top 300 – a string of good results this year has seen her race up to number 23 in the world.
This month at the Wuhan Open in China she stunned a series of higher ranked players. The little dispatcher’s impressive haul of big names includes fifth seed Johanna Konta, ninth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, third seed and former world number one Karolina Pliskova, and eighth seed and current French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
“It’s been an unbelievable week,” said the Australian said of her conquests.
“I’ve played some really good tennis at a really consistent level throughout the match and haven’t had any real drops.
“I feel like I’m moving well on the court. I feel like I have full control of the ball, which in some conditions it’s really tough to do.”
A proven performer in doubles, Ashleigh has now reached the final in all four grand slams with compatriot Casey Dellacqua.
She’s now showing her potential in singles, having reached her third final this year.
Unlike some of her male counterparts, like the aforementioned Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, she’s highly motivated and time is on her side.
After her quarter final win over former world number one Karolina Pliskova she said “it’s been an amazing season, it really has. I was very motivated and worked very hard last year to get back to where we are now.”
It couldn’t get better after that, could it? But Ashleigh decided that it could and hammered Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-0 in the semis to reach the final where she played Caroline Garcia of France.
Unfortunately, Ashleigh couldn’t quite win the tournament despite twice serving for the match against Garcia, losing 7-6, 6-7 2-6. She was philosophical though, after having gone so close.
“I put myself in a position where I could win the match, and tonight I couldn’t finish it off, which is disappointing,” she said.
“For us, still a hell of a week, probably the best week of my tennis career. So, yeah, we move on and we live and learn.”
Ashleigh started playing as a five-year-old and won the Wimbledon girl’s title in 2011 at just 15.
She stepped away from tennis in 2014 to briefly pursue a career in cricket. This maybe was a great decision as she avoided tennis burn-out and on returning she reached the third round of this year’s Australian Open, unseeded.
The Aussie cracked the top 100 in March this year. She reached the WTA Birmingham Final in England in June, which pushed her in to the top 40, after pulling off an upset in the semi-final, beating Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, the current Wimbledon champion and present world number one.
Though losing to two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the final, she gave a good account of herself and served noticed of what was to come.
When not globetrotting on the professional tour Ashleigh leads a pretty regular Queensland life, enjoying fishing, reading and computer games, and loves her pets which include two dogs, two cats and a bird.
Ashleigh Barty is currently ranked 23rd and is hotly tipped to soon crack the top 20 which would give her a seeding at the 2018 Australian Open in January at Melbourne Park.
It’s about time we had a female home-grown champion, the last Aussie female to win in Melbourne was Christine O’Neil way back in 1978!