Ash Barty has turned her five-month, eight-country “grand adventure” far from home into a triumphant global tour.
The calm, almost serene, manner in which she annexed a fifth trophy of the year in Cincinnati suggests the highlights are far from over.
Barty will commence her title tilt at the US Open at the end of the month as a prohibitive favourite, after sweeping to victory in one of the WTA tour’s biggest events without dropping a set and with an assurance that confirmed why she’s way out on her own as the No.1.
There were tears mixed with a touch of apprehension when the self-confessed homebody left family and friends in March to embark on a journey into the unknown amid a pandemic – and there were moments since when she’s endured tears of misery.
The hip injury that cost her the chance to successfully defend her French Open title was the biggest let-down, while her first-round post-Wimbledon loss at the Olympics really wounded.
Yet as she’s done in every staging post since March, this relentlessly optimistic figure has found positives amid the rare disappointments.
Tokyo, she felt, wasn’t anti-climactic because she came away with a bronze in the mixed doubles.
Normally, she explained, she would go back home after Wimbledon, rest up, reset in Queensland and refresh herself for the second half of the season.
She didn’t have the same luxury this year.
“But having Tokyo was almost the perfect distraction and reset. I didn’t dwell on us not going home, and that helped me,” she reflected.
“It is the grand adventure.
“Once we left Australia, our mindset was this is going to be a year like no other and we’re going to have to find ways to not only enjoy it but entertain ourselves.
“There’ve been times where I’ve felt days have been long, everything’s dragged out.
“Fortunately, I have been busy playing a lot of matches, the best distraction possible to pass time.”
She is supported by coach Craig Tyzzer and boyfriend Gary Kissick, who head her team.
“We’re just trying to play each match and kind of live each day as best we can, make sure we laugh, smile and have a good time, and the rest will take care of itself,” she said.
The 26-year-old is having a good time on court, that is absolutely clear – and, goodness, how winning helps.
Sunday’s Cincinnati final win over the outmatched Jil Teichmann was Barty’s WTA-leading 40th match win of the year and offered absolutely no encouragement for the other Flushing Meadows contenders.
Could she have envisaged in March that she would still, with September looming, be playing at this high level, perhaps more supreme than ever?
“I really did hope, and I think that we have certainly had weeks where we have been more flat, weeks where I have struggled physically, mentally,” Barty said.
“But that’s normal, it comes with being a professional athlete.
“It’s a bonus that I was able to win Wimbledon, and a bonus now that I get to continue to do what I love.
“And we just keep chipping away, keep trying to get better every single day as a tennis player.
“If that means more titles, that’s great. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
“That doesn’t matter for me.
“Being able to continually self-improve, not just as a person but as an athlete as well.
“That’s still my biggest focus and priority.”