Hyde: Barty wins tourney her way
After sabbatical, Ashleigh Barty reclaims career at Miami Open.
Here’s something different about this era of sports: There are few surprises left anymore. No barrier seems too high. No problem looks too daunting.
On Saturday, a woman who took an
18-month sabbatical didn’t just return to reclaim her career. Ashleigh Barty won the Miami Open over Karolina Pliskova, 7-6,
6-1, as the latest example of players doing it their way.
On Sunday, a man who’s won everything will do more than simply show an athlete’s age isn’t the hard boundary it once was. Roger Federer, 37, takes it a step further by showing greatness doesn’t come with a time stamp , either.
This is where we are in sports. The fences are moving. Injuries that once stopped careers don’t any more. Geography that once dictated where players could star isn’t as basketball and hockey show.
Barty was 18 and suffering from tennis burnout, as well as despair at the lifestyle that came with it, when she left the sport and turned to field hockey in her native Australia.
Now, after returning for good two years ago, she’s a rising name at 22.
“It was a bit of a no-brainer,’’ she said of stopping tennis. “I needed to take a break. I wanted to be able to relax. I wanted to see what it was like to have a real life.”
Barty played a team sport, making friendships in cricket, before returning with a renewed perspective. Her game is one of creative slices and self-styled spins, not just the prevalent power.
In part that’s because, she’s the smallest woman in the Top 25 at
5-5. But she has power, as her 15 aces against the 6-1 Pliskova indicate. It helped, of course, that Pliskova gave such lackluster effort ESPN broadcaster Chris Evert noted at one point she was,
“chasing her biggest title and not trying.”
Barty melted the competitor right out of Pliskova this day. Still, it’s one thing have a day of your career, as Barty did. It’s another to dominate for years, like Federer.
Men’s tennis keeps marketing the #NextGenMen, a group of rising players. But Sunday’s final is all #OldGen. Roger Federer, 37, meets John Isner, 33, in a match that makes fans and no doubt tournament
Isner, the lone American male in the Top 30, is someone for home fans to follow. Federer is a champion of the world, by now, a player whose longevity only adds to his greatness.
But look around. Serena Williams is winning at 36 and after a baby. New England quarterback Tom Brady just won a Super Bowl at 41. Age doesn’t have the hold on careers that it once did, as South Florida saw recently with Ichiro Suzuki and Jaromir Jagr playing into their mid-40s.
Federer climbed to No. 1 at 36 last year. That’s not a realistic goal this year. But Federer talked of the mistakes of youth at this tournament, of training poorly or picking a bad schedule.
“The important thing is to learn from them and not keep doing them,’’ he said. “I think I did pretty well there. But I also had good people around me who always wanted the best for me. I think that’s great when you have that.
“You just have to figure it out who is going to be part of the core team and who not. That’s tough when you’re young.”
Motivation to win isn’t the problem with age, Federer feels.
“It might be somewhere completely different,’’ he said. “Am I in the mood to pack another bag? Am I in the mood to beat another jet lag? And all those other things, these are the tough questions when you get older.”
Getting older isn’t the barrier it once was in sports. Nor, as Barty showed, is following the conventional path. Her holding the Miami Open trophy on Saturday is proof it’s hard to do something surprising in sports anymore.
Ashleigh Barty celebrates with the trophy after her win against Karolina Pliskova in the final of the Miami Open.