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PARIS (Reuters) – Ash Barty said it was “pretty cool” to walk back out on the Philippe Chatrier arena for the first time since winning the French Open in 2019 having skipped last year’s tournament.

The Australian opted not to try and defend her title last year, citing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of training time in an abbreviated season.

She watched from afar as Poland’s Iga Swiatek claimed the title in October, but world number one Barty is back.

“Honestly, it feels like a lifetime ago,” Barty told reporters on Friday. “I think coming back to the site is obviously pretty special, pretty cool to be able to walk onto Chatrier and have so many memories kind of come flooding back.”

“It’s certainly a clean slate for us this week but exciting to be here, exciting to be back and getting ready to play.”

Barty retired injured at the Italian Open in Rome this month because of concerns over her shoulder.

“I’m feeling good. I’m feeling ready to play. I think it was an important decision for us to make to make sure that we arrived at this tournament being 100% physically,” the 25-year-old said.

Barty could lose the top ranking if Naomi Osaka wins the title in Paris, although she said that was not concerning her too much as she prepares to do battle on the clay.

“It’s not at the top of my goal list by any means. It’s not something I focus on the rankings,” she said. “A lot of the time it’s out of my control. All I can do is try and play the best I can in each and every tournament. Whether that’s a good or a bad result, it doesn’t faze me too much.”

Swiatek, became the first Polish player to win a Grand Slam singles title last year when she beat American Sofia Kenin in the final — becoming the youngest woman to land one of the four majors since Monica Seles in 1992.

Swiatek, who turns 20 next week, said she is “lowering expectations” as she readies herself for a defence of the title.

“From the experience of other players it’s not easy to be a defending champion, so I’m giving myself time,” she told reporters. “I just want to be the same competitor as any other girl.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)