‘It was then that I truly wanted to be No 1’: Ashleigh Barty explains why she was determined to retain top spot

Ashleigh Barty delighted

Ashleigh Barty admits she was “a little rattled” when her position as world No 1 was questioned earlier this year.

The newly engaged Australian missed a lot of the 2021 season due to travel concerns and quarantine mandates put in place in her home country.

World No 1 Ashleigh Barty announces her engagement after title winning season

However, while she was unable to make it to tournaments, Naomi Osaka won the US Open in 2020 and Australian Open in February this year respectively leading people to think that the Japanese player was more deserving of the top spot.

“When we arrived in Miami in late March, I felt people were questioning whether I was the rightful No 1 given Naomi Osaka had won a couple of Grand Slams in succession,” Barty told CodeSports.

“It was probably the first time I felt a little rattled and I really wanted to make a statement on the court.

“Getting through that tournament – and playing so well at the end of it to defend my crown from 2019 – felt like a pivotal moment, particularly after overcoming a match point in my first round match against qualifier Kristina Kucova.”

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Once Barty got this taste of victory after her hiatus period, she was more determined than ever to keep hold of top spot.

“It was then that I truly wanted to be the No 1,” she revealed.

“It was the realisation of my determination, the competitive drive that was burning.

“I thought, ‘You know what? Someone is going to have to be really, really good to take this off me.'”

The Miami Open winner then went on to win in Stuttgart however the Australian ran into injury at the Italian Open and the French Open.

But she managed to get fit for Wimbledon in July and won on Centre Court, claiming her second Grand Slam.

“I felt in a really good position but it all went out of my mind when, a couple of days before the tournament (French Open), I injured my hip,” explained Barty.

“It was shattering, but I just wanted to do everything I could to try to be ready for Wimbledon.

“Somehow we pulled it off and after winning Wimbledon I did a quick reassessment and made finishing No 1 the ultimate goal for the rest of the year.”

Barty then switched her concentration from Grand Slams to Olympic medals when she flew out to Tokyo for the Games, and she came home with a bronze medal in the mixed doubles with John Peers.

However this put her goals of wanting to be No 1 in jeopardy as the sheer amount of competitions were tiring her out and the Wimbledon champion was doubting herself but she didn’t need to worry.

“We tried to refresh down in Tampa but I remember really struggling when I arrived in Cincinnati, Jo Konta thrashed me in practice, I was distracted and tired,” Barty said.

“I remember being a little teary in a conversation on the couch in the hotel lobby with Tyzz (her coach Craig Tyzzer), he asked me what I wanted from the rest of the year and that was to be No 1.

“Somehow we made it through Cincinnati and managed to win there – it was while we were in hotel quarantine back at home that we got the confirmation I was almost certain to finish the year at No 1.”

The 25-year-old finished her season early, opting to return to Australia instead of competing in the WTA Finals in Mexico so she could start her preparations for the 2022 season.

Barty is looking ahead to the Australian Open which takes place in February but isn’t looking forward to the work she’s going to have to put in ahead of the tournament but she knows it’ll be worth it if means she’s in with a shot of winning her home grand-slam, she said: “For me, the pain starts again now, I’ve had a good break and feel refreshed.

“On Monday I enter what we called the hurt locker, the pre-season is never easy and I am going to hate the next few weeks.

“But, at the same time, I also love it as it ignites my competitive instinct – I know that I will be feeling on top of the world at the end of it and raring to go for the Australian summer.”

The Australian Open starts February 8 2022.