'Hermit' Barty took no chances on way to Australian Open triumph


MELBOURNE, Jan 30 (Reuters) - As Ash Barty was making her drought-breaking run at the Australian Open, the talent of her rivals was not her only concern.

The world number one had enjoyed the perfect preparation for Melbourne Park, but was mindful an innocent slip-up could bring her undone.

With COVID-19 infecions spiking in Australia, the three-times Grand Slam champion said her team were on high alert.

"We didn't leave (the house)," she told a small group of reporters after her 6-3 7-6(2) final win over Danielle Collins.

"We would just go in the morning and get a takeaway coffee. We didn't go to any restaurants, didn't go out anywhere. So it has been two weeks of hermit life.

"It was a pretty quiet two weeks, just to eliminate the risk. We were just careful about it and didn't want to add any risk unnecessarily."

The emotion Barty displayed after defeating American Collins was unusual for the Australian.

After converting match point, she roared with passion, having dealt successfully with the expectations of being the local favourite.

"I wanted to yell. I wanted to scream to just get some of it out," she said.

"It’s been a really incredible two weeks of built-up emotion, in a really good way. Being able to let it all out and just kind of roll with it was cool."

Having taken no chances with her health during the tournament, Barty found herself in what seemed a thousand embraces afterward.

Family and friends queued three deep to offer congratulations in the corridors at Melbourne Park.

The celebrations were in stark contrast to the mood of her 2014 U.S. Open, when she lost in the first round.

At 18, she was homesick and jaded with the sport. Her subsequent sabbatical from tennis was to prove pivotal in regaining her passion.

"Without a doubt, in this second phase of my career, I’ve learnt so much more about myself as a person. I’ve grown so much more as a person," she said.

"Without that adversity, I wouldn’t be half the person or player that I am now.

"We all have to find our low points to grow from them. Being able to do that and make a really incredible team for this second phase has been the best part of it."

With French Open and Wimbledon trophies already in her cabinet, Barty is now three-quarters of the way to completing a career Grand Slam.

She has joined Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams as the only active players to win majors on all three surfaces.

"To be honest, I don’t really feel like I belong with those champions of our sport," she said.

At 25, with the world at her feet, Barty may ultimately feel comfortable in their company.

Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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