As lockdown eases in Melbourne, World No 1 Ashleigh Barty is back on the training court, making her preparations for the start of the 2021 season after a lengthy break from the game.
[COVID-19 has been] a massive punch in the face to think about your perspective and to think about the things that really matter to you on a personal level. The most challenging part is that we are never home for more than two or three weeks at a time, so to actually be able to have two or three months off at home [in a] forced break that hopefully becomes a blessing. Ashleigh Barty
She has reunited with her coach Craig Tyzzer, who was unable to leave Victoria due to state border closures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, and enjoying her work.
Barty, who lives in Queensland, has not played a professional match since February, skipping the US Open because of strict quarantine arrangements and domestic travel restrictions, and then opted not to defend to her title at the French Open.
Suitably refreshed after her lengthy break, Barty hopes the interval will prove a blessing as she returns to training to get ready for the home Australian summer.
“For me, it is a continuation of what we have been working on for the last two years,” Barty told The Australian, adding that the training felt like Tyzzer ‘had never left’.
“[COVID-19 has been] a massive punch in the face to think about your perspective and to think about the things that really matter to you on a personal level.
“The most challenging part [of tennis] is that we are never home for more than two or three weeks at a time, so to actually be able to have two or three months off at home [in a] forced break that hopefully becomes a blessing.”
Because of the revised WTA Rankings, which are following the ‘Better of 2019 and 2020’ point model for singles and doubles players, Barty will start the 2021 season as the top-ranked women’s player after the system was adjusted due to the pandemic.
When the tour was suspended in March, the 52-week ranking system was amended so that players could retain points garnered since March 2019.
Barty, who played professional cricket during her stint away from the game early in her career, has been a regular in the stands cheering Australian Football League side Richmond Tigers, and also honed her golf skills during the COVID-19 break.
She also took part in beach training sessions run by former World No 1 and two-time US Open champion Pat Rafter that were focussed on breathing exercises.
“It was really nice, just for a change in scenery … And it was challenging,” she said. “I mingled with a couple of the surfers as well, and saw what they did, and obviously that is something they are quite accustomed to, controlling their breathing.”
Her decision not to travel when the tour resumed in August was mirrored by her compatriots Nick Kyrgios and Sam Stosur, and all, no doubt, will all strive to benefit from the break.
Barty has dealt with both pressure and depression early on in her career, and she emerged in 2016 from her self-imposed two-year break looking at the sport differently, sating that tennis will never govern her life.
After a long stay in Europe during her Roland Garros title run, she did not touch a racket for two weeks.
The last time she was seen in competition at home, she missed out on the Australian Open final after losing in two sets against Sofia Kenin.
Some viewed the defeat as a missed opportunity, but Kenin’s subsequent success only serves to demonstrate the depth of women’s tennis these days and Barty remained untroubled.
As many of her top rivals closed off their season last week in Ostrava, Barty will see out 2020 ranked No 1 for the second consecutive season.
She has spent 46 weeks at No 1 and, unless the ranking system changes again, she will remain there for at least another 15 weeks until the end of the Australian Open.
Interestingly, by February she will have spent three times longer at the summit than Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters, and six times more than Venus Williams, which is not bad for someone who is so laid back and has not struck a ball in anger for 10 months.