Ash Barty has always insisted she’s not motivated by her critics but boy this must feel good anyway.
Sunday night’s stunning win in a clay court final in Stuttgart might not have been as important as her title defence in Miami a few weeks ago, but it was significant for a number of reasons.
What Barty’s latest win means
Firstly, the Aussie will be brimming with confidence a month out from the biggest tournament of her year. Barty’s number one ranking hinges hugely on her ability to go as close as possible to matching her breakthrough 2019 French Open win.
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Driving three top 10 rivals crazy with her cunning clay court game this week was an excellent sign of her prospects of again going deep at Roland Garros.
She might even be a slight favourite to win it given Simona Halep is still searching for her best form, Garbine Muguruza has tailed off slightly after a red-hot start to 2021 and Naomi Osaka has never been past the third round in Paris.
But the other message Barty’s 3-6 6-0 6-3 win against Aryna Sabalenka at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix sent to the rest of the tour was the recently-turned 25-year-old is fully deserving of top spot in tennis’ pecking order.
Yes, we love you too Ash. (Photo by Marijan Murat / POOL / AFP)Source:AFP
There was legitimate questioning of Barty’s iron-grip on the world number one ranking despite her failure to go as far as 2020 in this year’s Australian Open and her subsequent first round exit from a tournament in Adelaide.
Barty appeared to be no better than the pack of players chasing US Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka and her 73-week reign as No. 1 appeared to be fluky rather than earned.
Those critics looked like being proven right too as Barty faced a match point in her round of 64 clash in Miami against Kristina Kucova but the Queenslander found a way to survive — like she often does and did all of this week in Germany.
And now Barty’s case as being better than anyone not named Osaka is easy to defend.
Her win this week left her with 2471 points in the race to the year-end tournament in Shenzhen.
That’s just ahead of Osaka’s 2400 — although the Japanese star has played half the tournaments Barty has — and well clear of the rest in the rankings that offer a snapshot of who the best-formed player on tour has been each year.
WTA Race to Shenzhen
1. Ash Barty (Australia) — 2471
2. Naomi Osaka (Japan) — 2400
3. Garbine Muguruza (Spain) — 1980
4. Jennifer Brady (USA) — 1498
5. Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus) — 1422
Barty also stretched her lead in the overall rankings after picking up a load of points in Stuttgart, which she didn’t play when it was last held in 2019 because of Fed Cup commitments in Australia.
Ash Barty stretched her lead in the WTA rankings. (Photo by Marijan Murat / POOL / AFP)Source:AFP
She now leads Osaka 9655 to 7800 and has the opportunity to add points in upcoming clay tournaments in Madrid and Rome where she only has to better quarterfinal and round of 16 respective finishes from 2019.
Barty will back herself to do that after winning five of the past 11 events she’s entered dating back to the 2019 WTA Finals.
She has a 76-16 win-loss record since Miami 2019 and is 17-3 against top 10 players in that span, including winning her past 10 against the sport’s best.
If that doesn’t say world number one we don’t know what does and it’s clear Barty’s game is in even better shape than it was when she won her maiden grand slam two years ago.
“I’ve certainly felt like I’m taking my tennis to kind of a new level,” she said. “In a sense of being able to be calm and play with freedom and play without consequence in a way, just going out there and try to bring my best every single point.”
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