Ashleigh Barty continued her solid start to 2017 with a maiden WTA title in Kuala Lumpur. The Australian defeated Nao Hibino in a one-sided final, 6-3 6-2, to propel herself into the top #100 in the WTA rankings for the first time.
The “Barty Party” was in full flow all week as the talented 20-year-old sailed through the draw. Her Kuala Lumpur campaign began earlier than most as her ranking meant she had to come through qualifying.
Ashleigh Barty drops just one set en route to title
As the 7th seed in qualifying Ashleigh Barty strolled past Varatchaya Wongteanchai and Urszula Radwanska for the loss of just eight games. These two victories cemented her spot in the main draw, only her fourth WTA tournament since last summer’s comeback.
Irina Falconi – the only American in the draw – was the sole player to take a set off of the young Australian, taking the second 7-5 before Barty replied by dishing out a third-set bagel.
— JAbet (@JAbetOfficial) March 3, 2017
Following first round proceedings it was entirely Japanese or Chinese players that she faced. Japan’s Miyu Kato was dispatched in the second round before Chinese players Zhang Khailin and Han Xinyun suffered a similar fate in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively.
As if seven singles matches in Malaysia was not taxing enough Ashleigh Barty added a further four on the doubles court. Resuming her regular partnership with Casey Dellaqua the two did not drop a set as they strolled to their first WTA title since 2014.
— WTA (@WTA) March 5, 2017
Abandoning tennis for cricket
Not many athletes can boast having played a full year of two professional sports before they turn 21. Her season competing for Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash cricket league in 2015 put a promising junior tennis career on hold.
Ashleigh Barty has made quite a mark on both the junior and professional circuit as a teenager. In 2011 she sealed the Wimbledon Girls title aged 15 before peaking at #2 in the junior rankings.
Although the youngster entered the top #200 in 2012 it was on the doubles court where she flourished. Forming a formidable partnership with fellow Australian Casey Dellaqua the two set the doubles circuit alight. In 2013 the two reached the final of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open, although ultimately walked away with three runners-up trophies.
Progress stalled in 2014 and tennis was sidelined in favoured of a brief but successful spell playing cricket. After returning in Eastbourne last year Barty has made steady progress. After a successful run to the quarter-finals in Nottingham – where she pushed eventual champion Karolina Pliskova for two tie-breaks – Barty was largely quiet.
Successful start to 2017
She returned in Brisbane, giving Angelique Kerber a fright in three sets. Later in January she made the third round in Melbourne, her deepest run at a Grand Slam to date.
With her Kuala Lumpur triumph, Ashleigh Barty has all-but guaranteed herself an automatic spot in both the French Open and, most likely, also Wimbledon. With such a compact, all-court game her current trajectory is only upwards.
Intense work in the off-season is paying dividends and Barty is at a lofty #18 in the Race to Singapore. To make the end-of-year finals is an unrealistic achievement but to suggest Barty will find herself firmly inside the top #50 before the year is out is perfectly realistic. For now though, the lively junior will enjoy her maiden title and look to continue that form as the WTA Tour heads towards the clay court season.