Hyde: Barty wins tour­ney her way

Af­ter sab­bat­i­cal, Ash­leigh Barty re­claims ca­reer at Mi­ami Open.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - Dave Hyde

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

of­fi­cials happy.

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.

JU­LIAN FINNEY/GETTY IM­AGES

Ash­leigh Barty cel­e­brates with the tro­phy af­ter her win against Karolina Pliskova in the fi­nal of the Mi­ami Open.

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