NEW YORK - Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty has found consistency in the basics and captured five titles this year, giving the Australian star a major confidence boost heading into the US Open.
The 25-year-old from Brisbane skipped most of last year due to Covid-19 and hasn't been home since early in the year, but captured titles in Melbourne, Stuttgart, Miami and her second Grand Slam crown at Wimbledon.
Add in last week's final major US Open tuneup trophy at Cincinnati and it's easy to see what the top seed has her sights set on a third major crown when the New York hardcourt showdown starts Monday.
"This journey for me this year has been remarkable," she said Friday. "It has been incredible. Even though there have been some tough moments, that has made the better moments all the more enjoyable.
"We've had a lot of fun. We've tried to lighten up every day, laugh, smile, make the most of the position we're in. We're getting to do what we love. We get to play tennis."
Being relaxed has led to victories and those have brought a career-best year and even more confidence.
"It's keeping it simple. It's enjoying my tennis, going out there and playing with freedom. Then it just comes down to execution," Barty said. "Knowing I have the confidence to go out there and trust myself is massive."
Barty is back and so are spectators after empty stands last year due to Covid-19. She's excited about playing before full-capacity crowds after sitting home last year.
"It's nice to be back. This week is going to be exciting," Barty said. "Nice to have the fans back. That's going to bring a lot of energy. This is a tournament that thrives with the energy. I can't wait to get started."
Barty will be a favorite on her side of the draw with four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka of Japan and world number two Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on the other side of the draw.
"She has had an amazing year. It's really cool to see someone play so consistently," Osaka said of Barty. "I would say she seems really determined and really focused. It's really incredible."
Second seed Sabalenka, coming off her best Grand Slam run to last month's Wimbledon semi-finals, was similarly impressed by Barty.
"What she's doing, it's unbelievable," Sabalenka said. "She's playing really well. Her game is really tough. She's a really tough opponent for most of the players on the tour.
"She can hit the ball pretty heavy. She have everything in her hand, so she can do everything. That's what's makes her stronger than everybody."