It’s golf clubs down and her tennis racquet the new weapon of choice for Ash Barty as the world No.1 makes her long-awaited return to the court on Friday night.
Barty will square off with world No.2 Simona Halep in an exhibition encounter in Adelaide in her first match after an 11-month layoff.
While most of her rivals played on after a short suspension of the tour, Barty sat out almost the entire 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prioritising her health over trophies, the 24-year-old preferred the green fairways than the practice court and lowered her handicap from 10 to four while also, somewhat remarkably, winning the women’s club championship at Brisbane’s Brookwater Golf Club.
But the sporting all-rounder has her game face well and truly back on as she builds toward another Australian Open tilt as the top-seeded home hope in Melbourne.
“My girlfriends talked me into playing that club champs and it was just for a bit of fun,” the 2019 French Open champion told AAP.
“I’ve played plenty of golf over the past 12 months so now the golf clubs go away and they collect a few cobwebs again and the tennis racquets are the driving force.
“I’Il try and play a couple of rounds if I can throughout the year but the tennis racquets have to take priority now.”
Barty’s clash with Halep is the last of six matches at the so-called Day at the Drive and her coach Craig Tyzzer says it will be serious business.
“She’ll get a good hit-out there as well and we’ll try and treat it bit like a proper match,” Tyzzer said.
“There will be at least two full sets for the girls which will be great. And both Simona and Ash are really looking forward to that.”
Barty was the first Australian woman since Wendy Turnbull in 1984 to reach the Open semi-finals last year.
But her last-four loss to eventual champion Sofia Kenin, having served for both sets in the 7-6 (8-6) 7-5 defeat, still stings and is proving a motivator in 2021.
“And it’s good that it hurts because it means it means something to Ash,” Tyzzer said.
“She didn’t play anywhere hear her best match and that’s what we’ve tried to deal with, to overcome those situations when things aren’t going well.
“But she still put herself in a position to win both sets and didn’t finish them off.
“So that sort of hurts as well, that she didn’t play her best but she still should have got through that match because the next match could have been the best tennis she’s played. You just don’t know.”
Barty will once again be under intense pressure to deliver when she arrives in Melbourne for the February 8 start to the Open.
“Ash is pretty ready for that,” Tyzzer said.
“We’re not not to worried about the expectations. It’s just her going out and trying to be the best she can every day.
“That’s what she’s stuck to and it worked well in 2019 and the start of 2020 so that’s what we’ll plan on through this period as well.
“She’s in a position now where it doesn’t matter what number is attached to her name, I don’t think she really worries about it too much. It’s all everybody else’s expectations.”