Ashleigh Barty comment: The girl next door who stands out

Australian Open
Ashleigh Barty celebrates her Australian Open success

When she lost in the semi-finals of the 2020 Australian Open to Sofia Kenin, Ashleigh Barty could have been crushed. At that point, it was 42 years and counting since Australia had a woman’s single champion at their home major.

Compared to Andy Murray – who had 77 years to make up since Fred Perry won at Wimbledon – it was just a drop in the ocean. Jokes aside, she took it well. Very well. It was only a tennis match after all.

The 25-year-old doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Barty picked up her 12-week-old niece at the subsequent press conference and announced: “Her name is Olivia… I mean, perspective is a beautiful thing. Life is a beautiful thing. She brought a smile to my face as soon as I came off the court. I got to give her a hug. It’s all good. It’s all good.”

She controlled the potentially downbeat environment by just being herself. Disappointed? Yes. Rounded? Definitely. The message was that there were many good days to come. You got the feeling everyone believed it as well.

The famous Rudyard Kipling quote that hangs above the entrance to SW19’s Centre Court tells its victims and victors to treat success and failure as impostors to become “a balanced man”. Well, Barty is a very balanced woman. Her camp is a close family. When knocking up for Grand Slam tournaments, her other half can be seen acting as ball boy. It keeps things real.

When she speaks about her career, she uses collective terms such as “we” and “our”. It may sound like a sound bite well worn, but trophies are a team effort. Her growth is not some self-help book jargon nor borne solely out of a cult of single-minded sporting excellence.

The key to her serenity during matches – most obviously seen when 5-1 down in the second set on Saturday to a rampaging Danielle Collins – is the way she views matches as a reflection of life itself.

Barty’s game intelligence is superb when free from the kind of distractions that may have held her back in the past: “I love trying to piece together all the pieces of the puzzle to try to make me a complete tennis player.” When the final was on the wrong path, she reset. It was mightily impressive. Mindset coach Ben Crowe is a big part of that.

The world No 1 points to keeping things light and “fun”, embracing the environment rather than seeing it as a monster. That must be very difficult if you vacuum up all the news and stories and hopes of a nation. Better to live as one of us (even in a nice big house) than be a serious-minded slave to the sport and all the pressures that can swamp the mind.

Barty works as hard as anyone at the game but she’s accessible, approachable and rolls with the ups and downs as if it doesn’t really matter. “A good book and a coffee, and I’m set,” she says. That’s about as unstarry as it can get.

She’s got three majors now. There is an open field out there in the absence of a huge serial winner, but the idea that the Queenslander is a “transitional” No 1, holding the fort until the next dominator comes along is unfair. Not that she cares about that.

She’s never going to cry a river for the cameras or pump up the volume like her defeated opponent. A natural charm and manner make it obvious that there is no need for extra add-ons to make herself a “personality”.

“She’s a sweet and loved girl across Australia. Her relaxed personality makes her hugely popular – nobody doesn’t like her,” said Pat Cash. The beers are on the girl next door. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

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