(Reuters) - Ashleigh Barty will become the first Australian in 43 years to climb to the top of the WTA singles ranking after she won the Birmingham Classic grasscourt title on Sunday.
The 23-year-old beat Germany’s Julia Goerges 6-3 7-5 in the final, meaning she will knock Japan’s Naomi Osaka off the summit when the new rankings are released on Monday.
“It’s been the most incredible journey for me and my team,” Barty said on court after a standing ovation from the crowd and a warm hug from her doubles partner Goerges.
“You always dream about (being number one) as a little kid but for it to become a reality it’s incredible and not something that was even in my realm, we were aiming for top 10 this year.”
Barty’s route to the top has been nothing if not an unconventional one.
The former junior Wimbledon champion took an indefinite break from tennis at the end of 2014, recently citing mental health issues as the reason, and played Big Bash cricket for Brisbane Heat before returning to the sport in 2016.
Since then the Queenslander’s rise has been remarkable.
“We started from scratch three and a half years ago without a ranking and now to be where we are is a massive achievement for me and my team,” Barty, whose return has been overseen by coach Craig Tyzzer, said.
She won the Miami title this year to break into the top 10 for the first time, then this month she became the first Australian woman to win the French Open for 46 years.
Now she has become the 27th woman to reach number one since WTA rankings were introduced in 1975.
“She is a truly impressive person and deserves every success that comes her way. I couldn’t be prouder to be her coach,” Tyzzer told the WTA’s website.
“Over the last three years, Ash has grown as a person and as a player. What has stayed constant is her genuine, humble and respectful nature.”
Despite the prize at stake, Barty looked calm and composed throughout the final against doubles partner Goerges on Sunday, just as she did when beating Marketa Vondrousova in the Roland Garros final a fortnight ago.
Her only moment of concern was when she faced a set point at 4-5 in the second. But in true champion style she fired an ace.
Two games later a Goerges error confirmed Barty’s coronation and the end of Osaka’s 21-week stay at the summit.
The last Australian woman to reach the number one ranking was Evonne Goolagong in 1976 although it only came to light 31 years later after the discovery of an error in the records.
Like Goolagong, Barty is proud of her indigenous Australian heritage, with her father having Ngarigo ancestry through one of his grandmothers.
“I’m a little bit speechless, it’s been a whirlwind few weeks to be honest and to be able to follow in the footsteps of Evonne and even mentioned in the same sentence is incredible,” Barty, who will now be top seed at Wimbledon, said.
“What she has done for our sport and Australians all around the world, she put us on the map, and what she has done for indigenous Australians is remarkable.”
There will be no elaborate celebrations for Barty, however, as she said she was getting straight in a car to head own to Eastbourne to continue her Wimbledon preparations.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar