World number one Ash Barty says she is undaunted by the challenge of playing at the Australian Open after almost a year away from the WTA Tour.
- Barty has not played a professional tennis match in almost 12 months
- She chose not to defend her French Open title amid the COVID-19 pandemic
- Barty says she feels “great” ahead of the Australian Open
Unlike most players, Barty sat out almost the entire 2020 season, even skipping her French Open title defence while prioritising her health over trophies during the coronavirus pandemic.
Her most recent WTA Tour appearance was at the Qatar Open last February, where she lost in the semi-finals to Petra Kvitova.
Barty said she does not think she would be playing catch-up during her much-anticipated return at a lead-up event scheduled in the week before the Australian Open starts on February 8.
“I feel like I’ve done all the work,” she said.
“I feel like we’ve ticked the boxes and I’m feeling like every single year we continue to develop my game and it’s better and better.
“Obviously I haven’t played competition tennis for a year now so it’s going to be a challenge but we also know that hopefully again it will be a long season and we don’t have to panic if we don’t get the perfect start.
“We’ll just try and go out there and do the best that we can and whatever happens will happen.
“I feel great. I feel ready to go and I’m just itching to get started.”
Barty reached the last four at Melbourne Park last year, becoming Australia’s first women’s semi-finalist since Wendy Turnbull in 1984.
The 24-year-old will once again be top seed at the Australian Open but she said she would not feel any pressure from casual observers expecting her to live up to her number-one ranking.
“They can think whatever they like. If they expect me to win the tournament, then that’s their expectations,” Barty said.
“But mine certainly aren’t that for now.
“It’s about doing the right things right from the start, from the very first match, and whether I win the match or not, if I go through the right processes and do things the way we’ve always done it, I’ll sleep well at night regardless of the results.
“That’s a really important part of our make-up with our whole team. Everyone plays a role and we try and do a job to the best of our ability on that given day.
“If it’s good enough, it is. And if it’s not, it’s not. But that’s okay.”
Barty (left) beat Petra Kvitova to reach the Australian Open semi-finals last year.(AAP: Scott Barbour)
It is not the first time Barty will be making a comeback to professional tennis following a long hiatus, as she famously took 16 months off to play cricket for Brisbane Heat in the women’s BBL in the early stages of her career.
“It’s very different circumstances but I think from a personal point of view, I’ve had a lot of growth this year as well,” Barty said.
“Even though from a professional and career standpoint there wasn’t too much going on playing-wise, I still feel like I’m ready to go.
“So there’s no stresses, no concerns for me. I just try and focus on what I can well, what I know to do and I know it’s going to be a little bit rusty and that’s okay.
“But we’ll go out there and give it a crack and see how we go.”