Super talent Barty destined for greatness
Darren Walton |
Steffi Graf, Evonne Goolagong, Alicia Molik, Darren Cahill — they all saw it from the instant they first laid eyes on her.
The twinkle in Ash Barty’s eye, the rare racquet skills, the variety, the audacity and, above all, the steely resolve and temperament.
Cahill says Barty had it all even as a 14-year-old, when the precocious talent was invited to Las Vegas as a guest of the esteemed adidas player development team to receive specialist tuition from Graf, her husband Andre Agassi and the American’s legendary trainer Gil Reyes.
Cahill, who has helped guide Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Simona Halep to world No.1, was still coaching the American star at the time and vividly recalls Barty’s wide-eyed visit.
“She was brilliant back then for her age,” the Aussie super-coach told AAP.
“The opportunity to watch her play, the versatility in her game, the way she handled pressure and expectations, you could just tell straight away that if she wanted to continue down that path and put the work in she was always going to be a star.
“There was never any question about that.”
Graf, too, was taken aback by Barty’s silky game at such a tender age and, more than a decade later, still takes a special interest in Australia’s tennis marvel.
“She hit some balls with Stef and Stef was really impressed with her, and Stef knows talent when she sees it,” Cahill said.
“So she quite often, years after, would ask how Ashleigh was going and how her progress was going because she was such a good tennis player, she had great hands and she played differently to a lot of the younger players back then as well.”
And still is. Only now Barty is not only playing differently to her rivals but destroying them.
A straight-sets victory over American Danielle Collins in Saturday night’s final wouldn’t just break the country’s 44-year Australian Open singles title drought in Melbourne.
It would also confirm Barty as the most dominant champion since Graf waltzed away with the title in 1989 for the loss of just 24 games.
“She’s the best that she’s ever been right now. That’s the thing that blows my mind all the time,” Molik told AAP.
“Just when you think she’s playing great like winning the (2019) French Open or winning Wimbledon last year, playing great, but then she takes herself to a whole new level.
“It seems to be every slam and every year.”
Barty’s evolution and excellence is no surprise, though, to Molik, who sensed something very special from the moment she first watched the prodigy play at the national junior claycourt titles at Glen Iris more than a decade ago.
“She was probably 10 or 11 and could chip then and drop shot and just do a little bit of everything,” said the Mastercard Ambassador.
“I got the sense then that she’d grown up on grass or something because I hadn’t met her and was just advised to go out and watch her.
“She could clearly do anything; chip backhands, one-handed volleys. Generally kids aren’t that complete with all the shots that they can hit.
“They didn’t go in all the time but she had the repertoire.”
Such a repertoire that the sporting super talent even excelled as a professional cricketer while taking a 15-month hiatus from tennis after the 2014 US Open.
Depressingly homesick and suffocating under crushing expectations, the so-called next Martina Hingis packed it all and joined the Brisbane Heat.
Barty’s stunning cross-code transition led to Queensland women’s coach Andy Richards claiming the future tennis world No.1 could easily have been playing in Australia’s Ashes series with England right now alongside Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning instead of preparing for Saturday night’s Open final.
“She could’ve played for Australia. No doubt,” Richards told AAP on Friday, having witnessed the “freak” club 39 off 27 balls on her WBBL debut in 2015.
“I’ve never seen anything like it since and probably never will. She was awesome, a freak.
“She had the most outstanding transferable skills I’ve ever seen. Her hand-eye was quite extraordinary.”
During another pandemic-led 11 months off the WTA Tour in 2020, Barty, the single-figure golfer, also won the women’s A grade championship at the Brookwater club in Brisbane, where her fiance Garry Kissick was the trainee pro.
With a swing that has even impressed Tiger Woods, Barty claimed her feat was “not a big deal”.
But men’s club champion Louis Dobbelaar, a two-time Queensland amateur champion, is convinced the 25-year-old could have turned pro.
“She’s got all the tools if she wants to pursue it. If she put her mind to it, I’m sure she could,” Dobbelaar told AAP.
But tennis is in Barty’s blood.
Has been ever since she started teaching herself by hitting balls against the living room wall with a squash racquet in Brisbane as a three-year-old.
“When I heard (that) it reminded me of me,” said Barty’s idol, mentor and fellow Indigenous sporting great Goolagong, who learned to play tennis with a board from an apple crate instead of a racquet.
“She made me proud from the first time I saw Ash.
“She was playing at the Australian Open and (my husband) Roger and I stayed and watched for a bit and we saw one whole point where she showed all the skills.
“She did the slice, the volley, the smash. Everything in one game and we both just looked at each other and thought ‘oh, she’s got it, she’s going to be our next champion’.
“So look at her now.”AAP