Tennis

Aussie Ashleigh Barty's win knocks Naomi Osaka off WTA No. 1 spot

Kyodo, Reuters, AFP-JIJI

Naomi Osaka’s reign at the of the world rankings is over.

The Japanese player lost her grip on the top spot when Australian Ashleigh Barty defeated Germany’s Julia Goerges 6-3 7-5 in the Birmingham Classic final to ensure her rise to No. 1 when the rankings are released on Monday.

Osaka, who became world No. 1 after she followed up her first Grand Slam triumph at last year’s U.S. Open with another major victory at the Australian Open in January, also competed in Birmingham, but crashed out in the second round. Her 6-2, 6-3 loss to Yulia Putintseva on Thursday opened the door for Barty.

Osaka has only reached one semifinal since winning the Australian Open. She lost in the third round of the French Open, while Barty went on to claim the title on the clay at Roland Garros.

Barty said it was an achievement in “another realm” to become only the second Australian woman to top the world rankings. The last was Evonne Goolagong Cawley — an indigenous Australian like Barty — who held top spot for two weeks in 1976.

Barty’s route to the top has been nothing if not unconventional.

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 3½ 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 she became the first Australian woman in 46 years to win the French Open.

Now she has become the 27th woman to reach No. 1 since the 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.”

Barty said it was an honor to follow in Goolagong Cawley’s footsteps.

“To be able to follow in the footsteps of Evonne, even to be mentioned in the same sentence as her, is incredible,” said Barty.

“What she’s done for our sport, for Australians all around the world, not (those) just based in Australia, she’s put us on the map.

“And what she’s done for indigenous Australians is just remarkable.”

Barty displayed few signs of the arm injury that caused her to pull out of the doubles, where she paired with Goerges, on Saturday.

Barty saved two break points early in the first set and took advantage of her own chance to break, with Goerges putting a backhand wide to give the Australian a 4-2 lead.

Barty closed out the set without any further trouble.

Goerges struck back in the second set, breaking Barty in her first service game and then holding her own serve to take a 3-0 advantage.

Barty broke back, however, when Goerges sent a forehand out to get back to 3-2.

Goerges, leading 4-3, took Barty’s next service game to deuce with a superb volley, but the Australian extricated herself from trouble and evened the set at 4-4.

Barty had a break point opportunity in the next game, but Goerges fought back to win the game to go up 5-4.

Barty showing her championship-winning mentality when facing a set point in the next game, staying alive with an ace and then holding serve.

Barty broke Goerges in the next game before going on to wrap up the title and the top spot.

With Wimbledon scheduled to start on July 1, Barty said her celebrations would have to be pretty muted.

“Get in the car and get down to Eastbourne (her next tournament),” she said of the Wimbledon warm-up event.