Till this week in Melbourne, world primary Ashleigh Barty had not performed a aggressive match since 28 February final yr.
A 3-set defeat by Petra Kvitova within the semi-finals in Doha might have stung on the time, however high-profile occasions in Indian Wells and Miami have been simply across the nook.
Or so she thought.
All skilled tennis was suspended on 11 March due to the coronavirus pandemic. And though the excursions resumed in August, Barty determined to not journey to Paris to defend her French Open title the next month.
“The choice was most likely the hardest of the entire yr – not having the ability to try to defend my first Grand Slam title,” the 24-year-old says in an interview with BBC Sport within the run-up to subsequent week’s Australian Open.
“In all honesty, I did not watch any. I did not sit there considering, ‘I want that was me’, as a result of I used to be utterly content material with what I had at residence – understanding I made all the fitting selections for the fitting causes.
“Not one little bit of me had any little bit of remorse or a concern of lacking out. I slept fairly effectively at night time understanding that.”
Barty barely picked up a racquet between March and Could. It was an opportunity, she says, to “soak up what was happening, and try to determine it out”.
However she did often decide up her golf golf equipment, and has shaved a number of photographs off a handicap which now stands at three.
It was a uncommon probability to spend a (heat) winter at residence in Brisbane, which had comparatively low numbers of Covid instances and fewer extreme lockdowns.
All year long, Barty remained the world’s primary participant – helped by a call to calculate the rankings over a two-year, relatively than a single-year, interval.
She missed the US Open in addition to the French Open, however says there was little in the best way of frustration.
“It was extra about accepting what was taking place on this planet and understanding that quite a lot of it was out of my management,” she continues.
“Clearly, we made some selections about how a lot we might play all year long, however for me it was a no brainer: prioritising our well being first, and understanding that tennis is just not the be all and finish all for me.”
Barty didn’t see her coach Craig Tyzzer for six months due to the closure of state borders. However after lastly being allowed to make the journey to Queensland, after which spending two weeks in quarantine, Tyzzer was available for the beginning of great pre-season coaching in October.
The primary aim was the Australian Open, which can lastly start on Monday – three weeks later than scheduled. Final yr Barty fell simply quick, shedding to eventual champion Sofia Kenin within the semi-finals of her residence Grand Slam.
She doesn’t know fairly what to anticipate after so lengthy away from competitors. Does she nonetheless really feel like the perfect participant on this planet?
“I really feel like I am getting the perfect out of myself, and that is all that issues,” is her reply.
“I really feel like we have earned the place on the high of the rankings, and I do know that I do a hell of quite a lot of work off the court docket to try to be the perfect I will be, and that is all I can do.”
There’ll inevitably nonetheless be excessive expectations, as it’s 43 years since a house participant – within the form of Christine O’Neil – gained the ladies’s title on the Australian Open.
As much as 30,000 followers a day are anticipated to look at over the following fortnight, and Barty is delicate to these Melburnians who don’t imagine the Australian Open is acceptable this yr.
Melbourne was in lockdown for greater than 100 days between July and October because the state of Victoria suffered greater than 90% of the deaths in Australia’s second Covid wave.
“I can utterly perceive how Victorians really feel,” she says.
“I really feel like I’ve quite a lot of family and friends down right here. I lived down right here for about 18 months. To know that they’re feeling protected is an important factor, however I do know as gamers we must be extraordinarily grateful that we’ve the chance now to start out our season in Australia.”
The excursions are hoping to have the ability to run a comparatively regular schedule from April, with the French Open on account of start in late Could. Iga Swiatek will likely be defending her title, and so too, in a way, will Barty.
Assuming she performs.
“It is a difficult one to say proper now,” she says.
“Issues change so rapidly all around the world, it appears. Our priorities have not modified. It will likely be the well being of my workforce and my household and me as effectively. I believe we are going to plan as greatest as we are able to to journey and to play, however finally these selections will likely be made nearer to the time.”