isIn the days leading up to the start of the Miami Open, as male players fell off the entry list like flies, much of the discussion was around Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and all those who would miss the tournament. Yet the first week in Miami underscored a different sensation: World No.1 Ashleigh Barty is competing in her first overseas tournament since the start of the pandemic. The women’s tour feels whole again.
Barty’s decision not to compete last year due to his caution about travel led to an odd sight. As his enemies clashed at Roland Garros and empty stadiums across Europe, Barty could be seen with a beer in hand in AFL stadiums in support of Richmond. As players worked week to week to improve their rankings, the changed points system allowed Barty to rack up weeks at No.1 without lifting a finger, before resuming playing in Australia in January. Her 70 weeks at the top place her a week away from the correspondence with Caroline Wozniacki. Once she takes the Dane’s step, only eight players will stand above her.
Barty’s trip to Florida confirmed why she took her time. It took almost 50 hours, with Barty flying from Brisbane to Sydney, Los Angeles then Miami with two canceled flights. Australia’s mandatory 14-day quarantine forced her to decide whether she would return home during the season – she chose to stay on the road, at least until the US Open, which begins at the end of the month. ‘August.
“Without a doubt, it was something new for me, again trying to figure out where we’re going to be away for such a long time,” Barty says. “Of course there were tears the days before. There were tears when I finally left and then when we left. Then we got delayed and had to start again. It was all happening. But I’m certainly happy to be here now.
A long period of uncertainty awaits Barty. After this week in Miami, she will follow the tour in Charleston and then in Europe. But when it comes time to take a break, she has no base. His solution is typical of his low-key nature: “I’m sure I’ll make a few phone calls and call some friends and see if we can crash into their homes anywhere in the world. We are fortunate to have friends all over the world who have played tennis before or who we know on a personal level. But we’re just going to go with the flow a little bit.
Barty is far from the only person facing the challenges of frequent travel during a pandemic. Other players from Australia and Asia with severe restrictions have been on the road since the start of the season and are spending their weeks off in the US and Europe. European actors from countries outside the EU have been scattered all over the world when they would generally prefer to stay in Europe.
Briton Liam Broady, who has had the most consistent eight months of his career amid the chaos, explained how his schedule constantly changes with minimal notice. He was supposed to compete in Cherbourg, France when travel restrictions were changed for non-European residents and instead he went to play qualifiers in South Africa. He then scheduled a tournament in Italy, but ended up in Egypt. He admitted that he probably won’t see his own bed again until the weed season comes in June.
“I guess that’s kind of what Covid looks like,” Broady says. “Life in tennis is very fluid anyway, but with Covid even more so. You have to be ready for anything: cuts [tournament entry lists] to drop 20, 30 spots and go up and go to the next week where you didn’t know you were going to go. ”
As someone who generally plays fewer tournaments than their peers, always mindful of getting home as often as possible, this will be an interesting challenge for Barty. Those long weeks and months on the road have taken their toll on some players. Part of the challenge is just to stay fresh.
So far, however, things are going well. After saving a match point in her first round against world No.149 Kristina Kucova, the defending champion earned one of her best victories of her fourth-round comeback, beating Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 1 -6, 6-2 before dismantling Aryna Sabalenka 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 to return to another semi-final in Miami. Six months of opportunities await across Europe and the United States, but Barty is already in a position to seize them.
When asked what it feels like to have finally left Australia, Barty shrugs. “The simple thing for me is the weather. You know, it’s a blue sky, the sun is shining. We start playing a sport we love and we do what we love. “