Ash Barty started playing tennis at the age of five. Ten years later, in 2011, the teenager from Ipswich, Queensland, won the Wimbledon girls’ singles title. In 2012 she made her Women’s Tennis Australia (WTA debut) at the Brisbane International. Since then Barty has risen to become one of the top 20 women’s tennis players in the world, reaching the Quarter Finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, as well as advancing in the Australian Open and French Open. (Not to mention a year-long hiatus to play cricket.) At just 21, Barty has seen – and heard – it all.
A focused mind
As one of the world’s top sportspeople, Barty says professionals become adept at not letting crowds or noise affect them too much when competing. “I try to block out as much of the noise as possible and focus on my game,” she says. “It can be tough, especially when playing away from home with a very one-sided crowd and things in a match aren’t going your way. But the most important thing is maintaining a level head and staying focused on the next point.”
Signs and superstitions
What about the homemade signs in the crowd? The big foam fingers, flags and giant tennis balls? Do they mess with a player’s mind? Maybe a little, says Barty. “It’s really only when there’s movement in my line of sight, like someone walking back to their seat,” she says. “The umpire is pretty good at managing that, though.”
As are the brains of top-tier tennis pros. “Most of the top players are good at tuning out and focusing on the match,” she says. “Some talk to their teams sitting in the player box more than others, either for motivation or to vent frustration. Others have a lot of superstitions on court, like Rafael Nadal.” [The men’s number-one player in the world famously has a litany of routines on court, including never stepping on lines, picking at his clothes, and facing his drink bottles the same way every time.) “Everyone is a little bit different,” says Barty. “I can only control what I do, so I try to stay focused on my game and not let it bother me.” Perhaps with one exception. “No one likes grunting, though.”
Pressure and support
As players move through the rounds to the finals, the pressure of competition and the media glare amps up. Us mortals might think it becomes tougher on the competitor. Not always, says Barty. “Finals crowds are generally just bigger than the earlier rounds and the atmosphere gets more intense,” says Barty. “But you notice there are supporters for both you and your opponent at every match.”
That support increases exponentially on home soil. If there’s a consistent side-narrative to the Australian Open, it’s always how the locals are doing. Any clawing their way to the finals can expect a hero’s welcome.
It’s noticed by the players, says Barty. “Aussie players always feel special at the Australian Open because of the fantastic support we get from the local fans,” she says. “The tournament also takes great care of us and our families. My best tennis memories are from the 2017 Australian Open. It was my first one back playing tennis (after the hiatus to pursue cricket). I made the quarter finals in the doubles with Casey Dellacqua and it felt great to be back.”
Fine food and drink
For local players who travel the world for a living, there’s another reason to be thankful for the Australian Open: a chance to revisit some of their favourite places to eat and drink in the city. Barty, who is based in Queensland when not on the tour, is most fond of South Yarra and Richmond. “I love good coffee and there are so many great places around there where we stay,” she says. Her favourite? “The Pound in South Yarra for breakfast and for a quick and easy dinner I like Hunky Dory.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with the Australian Open.