WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Ash Barty still considers herself a work in progress.
Even though she is ranked No. 1 and already owns two Grand Slam titles?
Even after earning a championship on Wimbledon's grass Saturday to go with her breakthrough triumph on the French Open's clay two years ago?
Yes, which is precisely why she is bound to keep adding to her accolades, keep collecting those trophies.
Spend any amount of time listening to Barty speak about herself and her tennis and two things resonate again and again: She often refers to “we” or “our” instead of “I” or “my” — making sure to include her team of coach Craig Tyzzer and others as part of the venture — and she emphasizes the importance of always trying to learn and get better, whether as a competitor or a human.
“I’m a firm believer in ‘everything happens for a reason,’ the good moments and the tough moments. I think being able to learn from both of them equally is really important as a person, especially as an athlete being able to understand that there are always learnings from every match. From every experience that you need to learn from, there is an opportunity for growth,” the 25-year-old Australian said after beating Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in the final at the All England Club.
“Over the past fortnight, I’ve had massive, massive amounts of growth. Even the last fortnight, I think I’ve grown as a person. Certainly been able to use my experience as a tennis player to get me through some tough matches this week,” Barty continued. “I felt like I was able to get better and better with each match and trust myself more and more each and every time I stood out on the court.”
That's evident from the progress she has made at Wimbledon over the years.
A decade ago, she won the junior title. When it came time to start playing in the main event, though, Barty initially took a step back.
In her first try, as a wild-card entry in 2012, she lost in the first round. In 2014 and 2016, she lost in qualifying. In 2017, she lost in the first round again.
And since? Better each time: She reached the third round in 2018, the fourth round in 2019 and, after last year's cancellation because of the pandemic, look at her now — the champion.
“Being open to that growth is a massive part of my life, both personally and professionally. It’s a massive part of my team as well — allowing ourselves to have open conversations, allowing ourselves to have open communication. Sometimes when it’s hard conversations ... it's about trusting each other,” said Barty, who stopped playing in her second-round match at Roland Garros last month because of a hip injury. “This fortnight here at Wimbledon, we’ve been tested multiple times and we’ve been able to come through, all of us, feeling like we’ve really learnt something.”
So it shouldn't be surprising how skilled Barty is at thinking her way through a point and a match.
Sure, she is equipped with a topspin forehand that produced more winners than Pliskova's flatter version, a serve that delivered more aces than Pliskova and a slice backhand that is particularly effective on grass. She also is adept at covering the court and not afraid to go to the net.
But her best quality might be the way she can switch spins and angles within an exchange and come up with adjustments that make opponents, in Pliskova's words, “feel a bit ugly.”
“Once it gets underway, it’s up to Ash out there to execute with what she sees,” Tyzzer said. “She’s intelligent enough to read what’s happening a lot of the time and know.”
Part of what helped shape Barty into who she is today was the nearly two years she took away from tennis starting in 2014.
She had been a teen prodigy who loved the game but found life on tour much less enjoyable.
Barty took a sabbatical, essentially, and played professional cricket back home, before deciding to give tennis another try.
She returned with a new perspective. New confidence. New success.
In sum, she learned.
Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Follow him at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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