Ashleigh Barty admits she was “a little rattled” by questions over her position as world No 1 earlier this year, and says her “competitive drive” pushed her to maintain her place at the top of the rankings.
Barty has held the No 1 ranking since September 2019 and recently became the eighth woman to reach 100 career weeks at the summit.
There were questions over whether she should have held the position for so long after missing almost all of the 2020 season due to concerns over travelling during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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At the same time as Barty was absent from the tour, Naomi Osaka won back-to-back Grand Slam titles at the 2020 US Open and 2021 Australian Open.
“Holding the No 1 ranking again to finish 2021 is something I am incredibly proud of after such a challenging and unusual season,” Barty told CodeSports.
To have spent so much time on the road, to have asked the people I love and admire to support me and make sacrifices, and for us to prevail is an achievement to celebrate.
“When I look back at the season, there were four phases critical to holding on to the top ranking.
“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.
“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.
“It was then that I realised I truly wanted to be the No 1. It was not about the accolades. 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.’”
After winning the Miami Open in March, Barty also clinched titles in Stuttgart and Madrid before winning Wimbledon to secure the second Grand Slam of her career.
She may have challenged for another major in 2021 but had to withdraw from the French Open due to injury.
“I felt in a really good position but it all went out of my mind when, a couple of days before the tournament, I injured my hip,” said Barty, who won her fifth trophy of the season at the Western & Southern Open later in the summer.
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“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.
“I had a rough period after the Olympics because I was just so exhausted. 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. I remember being a little teary in a conversation on the couch in the hotel lobby with Tyzz (my coach Craig Tyzzer) but it was an honest, good conversation.
He asked me what I wanted from the rest of the year. And that was to be No 1. It was something our team deserved given the work we had done.
Somehow we made it through Cincinnati and managed to win there. I felt then we had probably done enough. But I was so spent. Cincinnati took so much out of me. I really had nothing left by the time we got to New York for the US Open.
“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. Quarantine was not particularly easy but knowing we had the No 1 ranking effectively sewn up was truly a highlight worth ordering a couple of beers in for.”
Barty opted not to play at the season-ending WTA Finals in Mexico due to potential quarantine issues on her return to Australia that could disrupt her 2022 pre-season preparation.
She is now preparing for the Australian Open in January as she bids to become the first Australian to win the tournament since 1978.
“For me, the pain starts again now. I’ve had a good break and feel refreshed,” she added.
“On Monday, I enter what we call 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 want to get better and better.
“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. Bring it on.”
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