The most important word in the title of this piece — “Ash Barty — one tough competitor” — could be any of the last three words.
Tough. Yes, Ashleigh Barty is tough.
Competitor. Yes, Ashleigh Barty is certainly that.
Yet, the word I wanted to include in the title is “one,” because Barty is World No. 1, and just took a big step toward being the year-end No. 1 with her win over Petra Kvitova in the China Open quarterfinals in Beijing.
With Elina Svitolina losing to Kiki Bertens and Bianca Andreescu losing to Naomi Osaka, Barty’s odds of finishing as year-end No. 1 just keep getting better and better. She is moving closer to an achievement which would ripple through not only Australia, but the tennis globe.
The win over Kvitova in China showed exactly why Barty is in position to register a “one for the ages” feat.
We have seen this match progression many times: Player A gets punched in the mouth in set one. She has much more difficulty holding serve in set two as she tries to stay in the match. She saves several break points, somehow gets to 5-4, and then pounces on a break chance to steal the set against the run of play and even the match.
She gets broken early in the third set but battles back and shows more shot tolerance and patience at the very end to win a contentious battle.
This is the kind of win very good players win often enough to keep their ranking high and their hopes intact at important tournaments.
This is the kind of win elite players win regularly, to make semifinals and finals of top tournaments and win big championships, vaulting to the very top of the sport.
In the ongoing debate — Is Ash Barty merely a very good player or a great player, only “solid” or truly elite? — this win certainly offered a strong argument for the latter answers against the former ones.
It doesn’t resolve the debate or conclusively end it. It does, however, move the needle in the right direction for Barty. Sealing year-end No. 1 would be a fat feather in her cap. Pulling away from Karolina Pliskova and the rest of the field would add more heft to her argument.
Barty has not played her absolute best tennis in Beijing, similar to Wuhan a week ago and Cincinnati in August. Yet, she has made the semifinals in all three tournaments. Her tennis hasn’t flowed easily the way it did in Miami and at Roland Garros or in the grass warm-up season before Wimbledon.
Yet, she has found ways to consistently win matches.
She hasn’t won 13 straight 3-setters the way Bianca Andreescu did before Naomi Osaka stopped the Canadian’s streak on Friday in Beijing, but she has won a lot of 3-setters… often enough to put her in position to stand atop the WTA rankings when 2019 ends.
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