Putting things in perspective has never been a problem for Ash Barty, whose down-to-earth attitude has been a major factor in her ascent to the top of the world rankings.
When she walked into her press conference on Thursday after her 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 semi-final defeat by American Sofia Kenin at the Australian Open, she was carrying her 12-week-old niece, Olivia, in her arms. The symbolism could hardly have been more obvious.
“Her name is Olivia, she’s telling you that right now,” Barty said. “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.”
In a match played in brutal conditions with temperatures pushing 40C (100F), Barty had two set points in the first set and another two in the second. But she was undone by the tenacity of Kenin, who fought for everything and in the final analysis played the big points better.
“It’s disappointing,” Barty said. “But it’s been a hell of a summer. If you (had) told me three weeks ago that we would have won a tournament in Adelaide, made the semi-finals of the Australian Open, I’d take that absolutely every single day of the week.
“I was two points away from winning that in straight sets, which is disappointing. I put myself in a position to win the match today and just didn’t play the biggest points well enough to be able to win. I have to give credit where credit’s due. Sofia came out and played aggressively on those points and deserved to win.”
As the face of the Australian Open, Barty has had to adjust to the demands of being the country’s big hope for a first singles champion since Chris O’Neil in 1978. If she stays around the top of the game for the next few years – and having already won her first grand slam title at Roland Garros last summer there is no reason to suggest she won’t – then expectations will grow every time the Australian summer comes round.
Those expectations, she said, come from outside rather than within, which might be important in the long term. “Yes, it’s different at home,” she said, (but) “I enjoyed the experience. I love being out there. I’ve loved every minute of playing in Australia over the last month.
“I’ve learnt so much. I’ve learnt from all of the experiences that I’ve kind of been thrown into. I’ve loved every minute. I won’t wait a year to put those into practice. I feel like as a team we’ve grown. I can’t wait to get started for kind of the rest of the year. I feel like it’s going to happen pretty quickly and we’re going to be back sitting at this table with an Australian summer next year.”
Kenin, who was in her first grand slam semi-final, showed few signs of nerves, saving two set points to win the first set and then two more again in the second to clinch victory and a meeting with Garbine Muguruza of Spain or Simona Halep.
Barty said conditions, which saw matches suspended for a while on the outside courts, had not been a factor but that she had just not been quite on her A game. “I think (it was) a match where I didn’t feel super comfortable,” she said. “I felt like my first plan wasn’t working. I couldn’t execute the way that I wanted. I tried to go to B and C.
“I kind of felt like I was scrapping and trying to find what I wanted to do best. (But) I came within a couple of points of winning the match. Sometimes it falls your way, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s just sport, that’s life.”
Barty will remain world No 1 whoever wins the title on Saturday and will head to her next event in Dubai, next month, with plenty of confidence, seemingly unaffected by the pressure that others have felt from having the top ranking. “Nothing’s really changed for me or my team,” she said. “We’re trying to chip away every single day to get better as people, to get better as tennis players. It just so happens that we got the No 1 ranking next to the name on the draw.”