(Reuters) – Ash Barty dismissed suggestions that she had unfairly held on to the top ranking while opting not to compete on the WTA Tour for most of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the pandemic preventing many from competing on the tour since March 2020, the WTA tweaked the ranking system last year to ensure that players were not penalised for their no-shows.
The format allowed the Australian to stay on top of the world even though rivals such as Naomi Osaka won Grand Slam titles during Barty’s absence.
“I never have to prove anything to anyone,” Barty told reporters on Saturday after she retained her Miami Open title when Canada’s Bianca Andreescu retired midway through the final due to an ankle injury.
“I know there has been a lot of talk about the ranking, but I didn’t play at all last year and I didn’t improve any of my points whatsoever. Yes, I didn’t drop but I didn’t improve any. I didn’t play any at all.
“There were girls who had the chance to improve theirs, so I felt like I thoroughly deserve my spot at the top of the rankings. The year we had in 2019 was incredible,” added Barty, who opted not to travel out of Australia for 12 months from March 2020.
Barty clinched the Miami Open in 2019 before capturing the French Open and WTA Finals. She started off 2020 by triumphing at the Adelaide International before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Tour to shut down for five months.
“I can’t control what anyone else thinks or what anyone else says,” said Barty, who was playing in her first tournament abroad since February 2020.
“Everyone needs to understand that it’s a pandemic. It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing for a lot of us to go through, so it’s a bit of a difficult situation.”
On Saturday the 24-year-old Australian was leading 6-3 3-0 when Andreescu took a medical timeout to have her foot and ankle taped.
It failed to make a difference and after Barty extended her second-set lead to 4-0, a dejected Andreescu shook her head and covered her face with her hands before tearfully retiring from the match.
Barty said she plans to compete in Charleston next week before heading to the Stuttgart Open in Germany.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Pritha Sarkar)