Ashleigh Barty wins again: Can anyone stop the Australian at the Madrid Open?

Ashleigh Barty

World number one Ashleigh Barty claimed her third title of the season at Stuttgart yesterday, proving once again that her ranking is no fluke.

The Australian fought back from a set down against Aryna Sabalenka to win just her second tournament on clay and continue her run of impressive results.

The victory was a statement of intent from Barty, who almost lost her ranking to Naomi Osaka at the start of this month and had been questioned over her decision to miss the majority of the blighted 2020 season to stay at home.

With Naomi Osaka having won her fourth Grand Slam at the Australian Open this year, there were also doubts cast over Barty’s mental toughness and her capacity to come through the most pressured of situations.

Indeed, the 25-year-old suffered a shock quarter final defeat to Karolina Muchova in Melbourne this year and fell to a first round defeat at the Adelaide International in February.

Since these lacklustre showings in her home country, however, Barty has regained her confidence and started to show the form fans had become accustomed to seeing back in 2019.

Barty

After defending her Miami Open title earlier in April, the Australian’s win in Stuttgart escalated her to the top of the WTA’s Race to Shenzhen –– which identifies the year’s best player.

Victory over Sabalenka on Sunday was also Barty’s 10th consecutive triumph over top 10 players, emphasising that this is not just a return to form, but the unlocking of a new and formidable gear.

Speaking after her victory yesterday, Barty said: “This week’s been phenomenal for me. I’ve certainly felt like I’m taking my tennis to a kind of a new level in a sense of being able to be calm and play with freedom and play without consequence in a way.”

This success on clay has come at just the right time with the French Open looming next month. Before that though, is the Madrid Open which gets underway this Thursday.

Who can stop the world number one then? Simon Halep is perhaps the finest clay court player on the tour right now and beat Barty in Madrid back in 2019, but the Romanian lost convincingly to Sabalenka in Stuttgart. Equally, Serena Williams isn’t likely to be seen until Rome and Osaka has struggled on clay courts throughout her career.

While Barty is not the finished article on this surface either –– coming from behind three times in a row last week –– her ability to grind out results at present makes her the firm favourite.

For all the talk on Osaka and how her rise to number one was inevitable, the question now does not concern the Japanese star, but rather, can anyone beat Barty herself?

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