Melbourne – Australia’s world No. 1 Ash Barty was delighted to return to competition after 11 months on Friday, although her comeback in Adelaide ended with a loss against Simona Halep.
The 24-year-old skipped the U.S. Open, decided against defending her French Open title and hadn’t played a competitive match since last February as she opted to remain home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s absolutely fantastic to be back. I’ve genuinely missed this so much,” Barty said in an on-court interview after her narrow 3-6, 6-1 (10-8) loss against Halep, the world’s second-ranked player, in an exhibition event.
“I have been getting a little bit impatient the last two or three months, getting ready to play.”
Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka also took part in the “Day at the Drive” event in front of a crowd of 4,000 to kick off the Australian tennis summer.
Barty was quickly off the blocks against Halep, who struggled against the Australian’s strong service and powerful groundstrokes in the opening set.
But errors crept into Barty’s game in the second set as Halep found her groove to even the match and then got the victory with a closely-fought tiebreaker in the final set.
Barty’s next event is the Yarra Valley Classic, a WTA 500 event at Melbourne Park that starts Sunday. The Australian Open, which begins Feb. 8, will be played at the same venue.
“I’m so excited to get started next week,” Barty said, adding that Friday’s outing against Halep was “perfect preparation” before the start of her tour matches.
“It’s pretty amazing to think where we’ve been the last 12 months and to now have a near full crowd here, it’s remarkable.
“The most important thing is when you come back out on the court, you love what you do. I know that I’m excited to get started. But it is bloody good to be back.”
Halep, a two-time Grand Slam champion, said her opponent didn’t look like someone returning from a long layoff.
“I needed a little bit of oxygen today after the two weeks quarantine, so it was not easy,” she said. “It’s going to be great fight always when I play against her.”
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