For a player who began 2019 ranked No 15 in the world and without a Grand Slam singles quarter-final appearance to her name, this has been quite a year for Ashleigh Barty. The 23-year-old Australian won her maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open, has finished the year as world No 1 and on Sunday night here in China at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre added $4,420,000 (about £3.4m) to her bank balance when she won the Shiseido WTA Finals.
Barty won the season-ending championships by beating Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-3 with a performance full of the variety and vigour that have become trademarks of her game. Her champion’s cheque is the biggest ever awarded in men’s or women’s tennis, beating the $3.85m (£3m) won by both Bianca Andreescu and Rafael Nadal at last month’s US Open.
“It’s been the most incredible year for me,” Barty said at the presentation ceremony before thanking the city of Shenzhen, which has staged this tournament for the first time and will be its host for the next nine years. “It’s been an incredible new era in women’s tennis and to play here in front of this spectacular crowd has been amazing.”
Svitolina, who was the defending champion, had gone into the final on the back of 10 straight victories in this tournament, but ends her year without a title for the first time since 2011 after a comprehensive defeat.
There had been plenty of empty seats in the stadium for most of the week, but the final drew a much bigger crowd and the enthusiastic spectators were rewarded with some fine tennis from both women.
The match quickly settled into a predictable pattern with the athletic and consistent Svitolina regularly forcing her opponent to hit the extra ball, while Barty went for more enterprising options. The 5ft 5in Australian has a potent serve despite her lack of inches, returns beautifully and has a killer forehand, but what is most appealing about her game is the variety she brings.
If Barty’s two-handed backhand can be a weakness on occasions, her slice is a major weapon. She also volleys well and has an instinctive knowledge of how to construct points.
There were no breaks of serve in the first nine games and it was not until the ninth that the score went to deuce. Svitolina forced a break point at 4-4, courtesy of a brilliant defensive lob and a follow-up smash, but Barty saved it with some positive hitting. In the following game, Svitolina saved Barty’s first two set points but on the third the Australian thumped a forehand return winner.
Barty stumbled in the third game of the second set when she double-faulted on break point, but the damage was soon mended. The world No 1 broke back immediately in the following game, rounding it off with a smash after a cleverly constructed point, and at 2-3 Svitolina was broken for the second time in a row.
The Ukrainian, nevertheless, is a gritty competitor and broke back to 3-4, only to drop her own serve once again to hand her opponent the chance to serve out for the match. Barty did so with the minimum of fuss, winning the game to love.
At the presentation ceremony, Barty paid to her entourage, led by her coach, Craig Tyzzer. “I’m very biased but I believe I have the best team in the world,” she said. “I’m very lucky to have Tyzz, first and foremost, as my coach. He leads the ship for us. He’s the captain.”
The final brought a fitting end to the year on the women’s tour, but Barty’s own season is far from over. Next weekend she will be hoping to lead her country to their first Fed Cup victory for 45 years when Australia take on France in Perth. France’s team includes Kristina Mladenovic, who partnered Hungary’s Timea Babos to victory here in the doubles when they beat Barbora Strycova and Su-Wei Hsieh 6-1, 6-3.
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