Ashleigh Barty clinched the title in Birmingham at the Nature Valley Classic, and in doing so claimed the World No.1 ranking as she edged past an erratic Julia Goerges 6-3 7-5 in Sunday’s final.
The strategic battle that was going on from the baseline was fairly obvious in the very early exchanges of the match. Goerges was focusing on getting the forehand working and trying to dominate play with two or three strikes off her favoured wing, while Barty’s main goal was really to try and find her opponent’s backhand with regularity and use the tricky and crafty backhand slice not only to take the sting away from the Goerges firepower, but most crucially as an aggressive weapon in addition. It not only zips through the court and flies through at a great pace, but it also forced Goerges to continue to hit up on the ball, play a defensive shot, potentially tire from the hard work her legs were doing in order to stay in the point, but also it allows Barty to sense her opportunity and take the following ball out of the air in the forecourt.
Ashleigh Barty Claims the World No.1 Spot After Birmingham Triumph
Barty only needed the one break of serve in the first set to seize the initiative and held serve comfortably enough to take the set, but the set that followed was a lot more hard-fought and the German certainly gave the new World No.1 a lot to think about towards the end. Goerges started to catch fire, strike a few positive, damaging forehand passing shots to start the better of the two in that set and she took all of the first three games as she appeared to be in a commanding role in the match. The real issue for Goerges was playing the big moments positively and well. In the game she got broken in the first set she simply could not get a first serve into play and it put pressure on her own shoulders, while also giving Barty more of an opportunity to get her teeth into her opponent’s own service games. History effectively repeated itself in the second set from the break advantage – Goerges then felt the pressure at 5-5, where again her first serve deserted her and then she coughed up two of her five double faults of the match in that one game alone. It was a gift of a service game that Barty was not going to let go unpunished.
The Australian stepped up to the service line to serve for the match and for her place in history as the brand new World No.1 but the enormity of that moment did not seem to make her falter or budge at all. The first serves appeared, she was totally in control of what she could control and made the final stages of the achievement look easy as she becomes the first Australian to reach the World No.1 ranking since Evonne Goolagong Cawley accomplished the same feat 43 years ago.
Goerges has a lot to be proud of with what she managed to do this week and the way she was able to slowly find some form after a difficult beginning to the season, but she did end up losing some key tactical battles in this particular encounter. Goerges’ backhand return of serve proved to be somewhat of a weakness. Not only did she find she was going through some service games without touching the ball on that wing, but on the rare occasion where she did get racquet on ball she was often dropping that shot short and invited danger in the rally. Goerges did have a set point in the tenth game of the second set, but as has been the case for much of the week, Barty stayed there mentally and went for her serve and groundstrokes under the pressure, holding from set point down and then breaking immediately in the following game.
Barty ultimately was the player that was a lot tidier when the rally began. She made just 11 errors all match, whereas Goerges’ unforced error tally went as high as 32 by the end of it, with most of the errors either coming from uncomfortable backhands, or from forehands played in defensive corners of the court due to the spin and angle that Barty was putting on the ball in key moments.
“Yeah, I mean Jules is an incredible competitor and she is never going to hand a match over lightly and she is always going to come up with her best stuff when her back is against the wall. So it was important for me to try and stay in touch and getting that break back early in the set was really important to not kind of give her a sniff of winning a set on her serve.”
Barty naturally was asked a great deal about the achievement of becoming the World No.1, what this means to her and whether this feat has really sunk in yet: “Oh it’s just been the most amazing journey for myself and my team and we’ve got to this point by doing all the small things right and I think we will continue to try and do that. But it’s certainly just been the most amazing month of tennis for us and really an amazing three years.”
“We had a very vague plan to try and get back in obviously to the rhythm of it and to playing again. But certainly not for it to happen this quickly. It is always a goal to try and be the best. It’s ultimately why we train, why we compete and play, but for it to happen in this way has been amazing. It’s a testament to all of my team who have put so much time and invested so much passion and energy into my career and try and make me the best that I can be.”
Lastly, the new World No.1 tried to put into words the unique feeling of both winning the match point at the French Open and the match point she played to win the World No.1 spot, what they both meant to her and whether they were comparable in any shape or form: “Very different feelings. I think very unique feelings, both of them. But really hard to put into words, I think. Particularly at the French, it was just, it felt like a whirlwind. And this week felt more like a regular week if there’s such a thing just to try and go about things the right way and be really process-based. But, yeah, I mean, it’s just hard to put into words what we have been able to achieve over the last few years and to be where we are now is just incredible.”
The real lingering question after such a final and such a telling moment in this period of women’s tennis is just how far can Barty go not only on the grass of Wimbledon this season, but in the coming years. She has the baseline stability to dig into points and eek out unforced errors whenever necessary, but she also has the weapons to make things a lot easier for herself. The versatility she possesses is something that could take her even further, maybe even further than some people truly had anticipated.