Ash Barty reckons that rediscovering the fun of her childhood tennis days is now helping inspire her to new heights in the game that she currently rules.
Australia’s superstar was typically no-nonsense when asked even before her Porsche Tennis Grand Prix final triumph in Stuttgart on Sunday about whether the Barty era was upon us.
“Not by any means, mate,” the world No.1 said.
“I’m just trying to be the best version of myself. I certainly don’t feel by any means it’s an era of … er, me.”
Yet her brilliant three-set victory over Aryna Sabalenka was the sign of a champion who, as Barty conceded, is taking her game “to a kind of a new level.”
After picking up a third title of the year in Stuttgart, the 25-year-old birthday girl said it was because she felt she was playing “tennis without consequence”.
That is, mastering the trick of going out on to the court and somehow managing “to be calm, play with freedom and without concerns.”
“For me, it’s a level of freedom,” Barty said.
“If I miss or make a mistake, it’s OK. It’s not going to be the end of the world if I make a few errors. It’s just playing without consequence and not focusing on the result as such.”
The world No.1 reckoned her approach stemmed from work she had done with mindset coach Ben Crowe.
“There are many things we’ve worked on. It’s something I’ve always tried to do and always remind myself of what it felt like to play when I was a little kid.
“It didn’t matter what happened, it was just about the playing.
“That’s a massive part of who I am now. I want to go out there and have fun because ultimately it’s what I love to do and results weren’t my love for the sport or how I feel about the sports.
“It’s just trying to find the right way in the right spirit.”
The results were there in Stuttgart for all to see, as Barty seemed eerily calm, relaxed and in control, even when defeat from world top-10 players appeared to threaten in three matches.
She felt she’d played “great tennis” in both Miami and Stuttgart – and she’d had fun too, being able to also win the doubles on Sunday with her American pal, Jennifer Brady, the Australian Open finalist.
But after watching Barty collect two trophies, a huge cheque, a luxury watch and a new Porsche, surely the last word had to go to one of her doubles final opponents, Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
“But Ash, damn, you’re gonna get your car and all the prize money, I mean, ‘Really?’…” joked the American.
“I guess we all just gotta go and work harder!”