The Australian world number one, Ashleigh Barty, beat Ukranian defending champion, Elina Svitolina, for the season-ending Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) title in Shenzhen on Sunday, November 3rd 2019. Barty won 6–4, 6–3, taking home the record largest tennis prize in history, totalling a whopping US$4.42 million (£3.42 million). “It has been a remarkable year tonight was about coming out and fighting to the end. I couldn’t be prouder. It has been an incredible year,” Barty commented in a post-match interview.
Not only did Barty finish the year as the world’s top player, but she has become the fifth player to win the WTA finals on her debut.
Barty had lost all her five previous matches against the defending champion, Svitolina, but managed to come through a testing second set with a victory. It was only at the 10th game that Barty created three breakpoint opportunities and secured the opening set with a forehand return winner. There were a total of five service breaks in the first eight games of the second set, leaving Barty in the lead and serving for the match.
Sunday marked a highly engaging final between the top seed and defending champion and was a positive way to finish a season-ending final which had a rough start on its debut in Shenzhen.
The title adds to Barty’s extensive list of achievements in 2019, including her first Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, winning the Birmingham title to rise to world number one for the first time and winning the first Premier Mandatory title at the Miami Open. Not only did Barty finish the year as the world’s top player, but she has become the fifth player to win the WTA finals on her debut. “Bizarre, if I’m being completely honest,” she said of her big win, according to the Women’s Tennis Association. “It feels like it’s been a year that just hasn’t stopped.”
Barty’s successes in the past year, culminating with the player-of-the-year title, go to show that triumph is possible at a reasonable pace, without sacrificing everything for fame and glory.
The WTA was established in 1973 by Billie Jean King with the intent to provide equal opportunities for female tennis players. What exactly does the record-breaking prize money mean for women’s empowerment in sport? Access to money usually reserved for male athletes is most definitely a step in the right direction and a symbolic moment. Steve Simon, CEO of the WTA, remarked: “There was a true commitment here, trying to do something about ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to women’s empowerment.” Unlike most sporting leagues, the WTA is an organisation born with the intent of fighting the status quo, and its foundations are far beyond just tennis.
Shenzhen showcased an enthralling WTA final, with the world’s best players engaging in thrilling matches; perhaps even thrilling enough for a momentary suspension of attention to the happenings across the border.
However, there were significant concerns about the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre setting, with the courts 20 miles away from the Hong Kong protests and Chinese military trucks on display around the perimeter. Shenzhen showcased an enthralling WTA final, with the world’s best players engaging in thrilling matches; perhaps even thrilling enough for a momentary suspension of attention to the happenings across the border. Ultimately, the WTA 2019 has made headlines for its pushing of boundaries and inadvertent involvement in one of the biggest sports politics stories of the year.
Barty’s career, distinctly marked by a two-year retirement from tennis, demonstrates the power of will—and rest. After being under too much pressure and suffering from depression, the 23-year old returned with a determination to conduct her career on her own terms, ensuring her mind was never overworked. Her scheduling this year just goes to show the importance of rest in achieving tennis greatness, while her rivals this year played more than fifteen tournaments and burned out, Barty trained and relaxed at home for a month. Her successes in the past year, culminating with the player-of-the-year title, go to show that triumph is possible at a reasonable pace, without sacrificing everything for fame and glory.