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As Wimbledon begins, Ashleigh Barty is on top of the world
[WIMBLEDON, England] Asked about her readiness for Wimbledon, where on Tuesday she will play her first match as the No. 1 seed, Ashleigh Barty used her preferred first-person plural pronouns.
"We feel like we've been striking the ball really well; we're comfortable with the grass under our feet," Barty said Saturday.
The use of "we" is "very automatic," she says, part of a collective mindset that makes life less lonely at the top. She wants to share her successes with her team, which consists of her coach Craig Tyzzer, the professional mentor Ben Crowe, the manager Nikki Craig, the strength and conditioning coach Mark Taylor, and the physiotherapists Adam Schuhmacher and Melanie Omizzolo.
"We work hand in hand to be able to achieve what we achieve, and I certainly wouldn't be half the player I am if I didn't have Tyzz and all the people in my team around me," Barty, 23, said in an interview. "It's very much that we work hard in our different roles, in what we do, to try to make these dreams come true."
One of those dreams came true a week ago, when she ascended to the top spot in the WTA rankings. That capped a remarkable journey that included being a junior Wimbledon champion at 15 — "the best and the worst thing that's ever happened to me," she said — and a hiatus from tennis as she dealt with depression and put down her racket in favor of a cricket bat before coming back to the sport in 2016.
"Three years down — it feels like it's been longer than that, just because of all the stages we've been through," Tyzzer said. "I think her progress has been gradual, building and building. You keep working toward these goals and targets, and Ash has certainly answered all the questions."
Still, Barty's rise has been startlingly sudden. She won the Miami Open in March and her first Grand Slam singles title at the French Open in June before clinching the top spot by winning a grass-court tournament in Birmingham, England. She had spent only 12 weeks in the top 10 before reaching No. 1, the fewest of any of the 27 women to reach the top spot, a run she said she feels as if something "that I've been plunged into."
"I don't think it's really sunk in yet," she said.
Her goal at the start of the year was to crack the top 10. "Once we did that," Barty said, "we automatically set new goals, we kept working, to try and get better every single day in every facet of my tennis: physically, mentally, technically."
Tyzzer said there would be no chance of complacency from Barty or the rest of her collective.
"In this game if you sit still, you get overrun pretty quickly," he said. "We won't stop continuing to work, continuing to look to get better, and continuing to improve. We know by winning a Slam and becoming No. 1, you don't walk out and win every match you're going to play."
Mention of Barty's No. 1 status caught Serena Williams off guard during her news conference Saturday. Since she spent the most recent of 319 weeks ranked No. 1 in May 2017, seven players have held the top spot. Williams' unawareness of Barty's new position was quickly replaced by pleasant surprise.
"I don't know anyone that has anything negative to say about her," Williams said of Barty. "She's like the sweetest, cutest girl on tour. She's so nice. She has the most beautiful game, such classic shots. I mean, she does everything right. Her technique is, like, flawless."
Williams' delight has been echoed by many in the sport, where Barty is popular for her personality and her game, which includes tools many feared had become obsolete.
"You know what's happening in tennis: It's going back to an all-around sport," Billie Jean King said excitedly last week. "You see the way she plays? It's like the old days! She's got a slice backhand, she can hit it, she goes to the net, she stays back, she's got a great serve."
Those tools should prove especially effective on the grass courts of Wimbledon, where she is the oddsmakers' favorite. Her first-round opponent is No. 43 Zheng Saisai.
In another endorsement, Barty had been one of the first players Andy Murray, who is returning from hip surgery, asked to play mixed doubles at Wimbledon. Already committed to playing singles and women's doubles at Wimbledon, she turned him down. Still, on Saturday he spoke of his admiration for not only her "great hand skills," but her journey away from and back to the sport, on her own terms.
"To see her around the courts and stuff now, it just seems like she's loving it," he said.
Julia Görges, whom Barty beat in Birmingham to clinch the No. 1 ranking, had tears of joy as she congratulated Barty on the milestone.
"I'm very happy that I can share it with you," Görges said during the trophy ceremony.
Naomi Osaka, whom Barty unseated for the No. 1 ranking, said the weight of the role had overwhelmed her.
"Mentally it was way more stress and pressure than I could have imagined," Osaka said Saturday. "I don't think there was anything that could have prepared me for that, especially since I'm kind of an overthinker."
She joined the chorus of those thrilled for Barty.
"I'm really happy for Ashleigh," Osaka said. "She's super amazing."