WHAT HAPPENED: It’s a good thing that Ashleigh Barty decided to put down the cricket bat. The 21-year-old Australian, who during a nearly two-year-long hiatus from tennis dabbled in the world of professional cricket in her home country of Australia, has been on a steady climb since her return to the WTA tour.
On Day 1 at the US Open, the versatile 21-year-old athlete showed why she is currently ranked inside the Top 50 (No. 43), rallying from a set down to upset No. 21 seed Ana Konjuh, a quarterfinalist in Flushing Meadows in 2016, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.
It was Konjuh who snatched the early momentum on Court 7. The 19-year-old right-hander – one of only eight teenagers in the women’s draw – broke her opponent’s serve to open the match, and was soon out to a 4-0 advantage. She would go on to close out the first set in 36 minutes, punctuated by a down-the-line backhand winner.
But Barty would turn the tables and then some. The 21-year-old reeled off 12 of the next 13 games to seal the win. Overall, she would win 37 of 46 (80 percent) first-serve points and convert six of her 11 break-point opportunities.
That Barty had it in her to flip the script should not come as all that much of a surprise. After all, she has pocketed a nifty collection of Top 20 wins this year, including decisions over Venus Williams (Cincinnati) and Garbiñe Muguruza (Birmingham). What is surprising is how, after such a long break from the sport, she could so quickly work her way back into the mix. Following the 2014 US Open, where after qualifying she fell in the first round, she opted for a career change, and went on to enjoy a successful stint with the Brisbane Heat of the Women’s Big Bash League. But since her return in 2016, she has played with a newfound sense of confidence.
WHAT IT MEANS: Awaiting Barty in the second round will be Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus. It will be their first career head-to-head encounter.
MATCH POINT: Can Barty build on her round-of-16 finishes in Toronto and Cincinnati to reach the second week in Flushing Meadows?