The opening weeks of the 2020 tennis season have been an emotional roller-coaster for Ashleigh Barty. As bushfires raged across the vast country of Australia threatening to grotesquely alter its uniquely beautiful landscape, her chosen profession dictated she cement her place as the world’s top-ranked player.
Being one of a handful of global superstars to emerge from Australia’s indigenous community, who for millennia have survived off Mother Nature’s bounties before rapid urbanisation brought all its benefits (and assorted ills), Barty must have felt conflicted.
But what better way than use tennis and her expertise in it to ease her country’s pain and at the same time create some awareness?
Barty announced she would donate her entire earnings from the Brisbane International to the Australian Red Cross for its fire relief operations.
She didn’t reach the final though, going down to the USA’s Jennifer Brady in the round of 16, but she still managed to win $92,800 which she promptly put to good use, inspiring several other sports stars to chip in for the cause. A few days earlier, she had already donated $30,000 to the RSPCA to help animals affected by the fires and spent time petting injured koalas and kangaroos housed at shelters.
The 23-year-old then reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open ensuring she stayed top of the rankings, although she emphasised yesterday that she is under no pressure whatsoever to maintain her position.
“First and foremost there’s no pressure for me to stay as No 1. I think obviously all of the girls that are pushing me, challenging me, we’re making each other better tennis players and I think the best thing is we all challenge each other every single day,” she told the media at her first press conference in Doha where she is seeded first at the Qatar Total Open.
“All I’m trying to do is improve every single day and regardless of whether I stay at that No. 1 ranking or I don’t, I try and do the right things every single day and it’s been an incredible ride for me since I came back into the sport.”
Barty had taken a break from the game after the 2014 US Open, saying she wanted to experience “normal” life as a teenager after being constantly on the move since she turned pro in 2010 as a 14-year-old.
“It was too much too quickly for me as I’ve been travelling from quite a young age... I wanted to experience life as a normal teenaged girl and have some normal experiences,” she had said then.
It was then that she was bitten by the cricket bug and ended up playing in the Women’s Big Bash League for Brisbane Heat in 2015 before (thankfully) picking up the racquet again in 2016.
“Obviously I had a different phase during my journey and through my life of playing different sports and different things like that, but it’s been amazing coming back into the sport. I’ve had a great three years almost now fully back on tour, so it’s been fantastic,” she said yesterday.
She was asked to reflect on her time spent playing cricket and how different it was from tennis.
“Yeah, it is different, I think every sport is different and obviously when I had my break I wasn’t sure whether I would play tennis again or not. I didn’t say that I never would, I didn’t say that I definitely would. It was just, it kind of it is what it is, it was what it was.
“But, yeah, obviously cricket is a massive part of Australian culture, it’s an incredible sport and I think there were bits and pieces that helped each other. I think my tennis helped my cricket and my cricket helped my tennis in a way, in a bizarre way. But, no, it was, it was experiences that I loved. I met new people, met a new kind of group and circle of friends and had all these new experiences that I definitely learned from.”
Now after a good few weeks away from the tennis she is back again in the spotlight in Doha where she will face stiff competition.
“I feel good. I needed to have an extra few days off just to let my body settle. We had a couple little niggles going on after the Australian Open. I would have loved to have been able to play last week (in Dubai) and this week — I’ve never played either of these tournaments, so it’s kind of a new thing for me — but, yeah, it was nice to spend some time at home with my family,” she said.
“Obviously parts of my family were with me at the Australian Open and my other sister wasn’t, so it was nice to catch up with my niece and nephew at home who had been watching and kind of enjoyed that month with me. But it was nice. And then to get into a bit of training angle then to come here and experience something new for the first time, it’s rare that we kind of get that, we play the same tournaments and the same kind of calendar throughout the year, so it’s nice to experience something new, something fresh and really exciting.”
Barty has been given a first round bye and will be seen in action in Doha for the first time tomorrow in the round of 32.
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