Sport Tennis History beckons: Ash Barty the first Australian woman to end the year at world No.1
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History beckons: Ash Barty the first Australian woman to end the year at world No.1

Ash Barty and the spoils of victory in Paris. Photo: Getty
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When Ashleigh Barty claimed the French Open in June it marked a remarkable high point after taking a break from tennis.

She had dropped out of the top 250, but is now set to end 2019 on top of the world.

The French Open champion will be the first Australian woman to finish a season as world No.1 since rankings were introduced in 1973.

She secured the top spot with a comeback victory in her opening match at the WTA Tour Finals in Shenzhen on Sunday.

“I think it will be the beers more than champagne,” Barty said after fighting back to beat Belinda Bencic 5-7 6-1 6-2.

Unless disaster strikes and she can’t walk on court again this week and Karolina Pliskova takes the title, Barty’s gritty win has sealed the 23-year-old’s place in Australian tennis history.

“It’s pretty neat. It’s been an incredible year, it really has,” Barty said.

I think it’s a bit of a bonus to be able to finish year-end world No.1. It certainly wasn’t something that was in my realm at the start of the year. It’s really exciting.”

Former Wimbledon and US Open champion Lleyton Hewitt, in 2001 and 2002, is the only other Australian to have held top spot at the end of a calendar year.

The honour is a fitting reward for a phenomenal season of firsts for Barty, highlighted by her stunning triumph in Paris in June during a life-changing 15-match winning streak in Europe.

But her tour-topping 53rd win of the year on Sunday night also leaves Barty on track to qualify for the semi-finals at the season-ending showpiece, and the chance to crown her triumphant 2019 campaign in ultimate fashion.

We did it: Ash Barty hugs her coach Craig Tyzzer after first claiming the No.1 world ranking. Photo: Getty

Australia’s spearhead also has the Fed Cup final against France in a fortnight to worry about, so the Barty party is on hold for now.

“First and foremost, we’d love to finish off the week here really strongly, then we can worry about celebrating that little thing,” Barty said.

“Very, very cool for myself, my team. The amount of work and effort we all put in; it does take a village.

“I have an incredible team of people around me. I think this is more for them than for me. But we’ve still got a job to do here and then obviously we’ve got a Fed Cup final to look forward to as well.”

The top seed can all but clinch a spot in the final four with another pool win on Tuesday against Naomi Osaka, who opened her campaign in Shenzhen with an equally dogged 7-6 (7-1) 4-6 6-4 denial of 2011 season-ending champion Petra Kvitova.

The champion in China will bank the biggest cheque ever offered in men’s or women’s tennis, for at least $6 million – or $6,925,000 if they win the title undefeated.

But money can’t buy the season Barty has put together.

“It’s been an incredibly consistent year across all surfaces, across all continents in the world,” said Barty, the winner of titles on clay, grass and hard courts in 2019 and now chasing one indoors.

“I feel like (I’ve) played an exceptional level of tennis.”

-with AAP