Her game is a varied thing of beauty, mate, and though at 5 feet 5 inches she is far from the most imposing player on tour, her tennis has been standing taller and taller in 2019.
She was a finalist in Sydney, a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open with many of her sports-savvy compatriots piling on the pressure by tracking her every stroke. She was then the key figure in Australia’s 3-2 victory over the United States on the road in the Fed Cup.
Though Elina Svitolina stopped her in the round of 16 at Indian Wells by winning the longest match of the women’s season (3 hours, 12 minutes), there was no stopping Barty in Miami.
Barty, seeded No. 12, defeated three top-10 players: Kiki Bertens; Petra Kvitova, who had stopped her runs in Australia; and Pliskova.
Already an established doubles champion, Barty will be a part of the singles top 10 for the first time Monday, moving to No.9 and becoming the first Australian woman to break into that group since 2013, when Samantha Stosur was at her peak.
But Barty, 22, is the undisputed leader of Australian women’s tennis at this stage, as underscored by her 6-0, 6-3 victory over the 35-year-old Stosur in the round of 32 in Miami.
Her Australian roots go deeper than most: Her father, Robert, is an indigenous Australian, a part of the Ngarigo people. She has embraced that heritage, taking on a role as a tennis ambassador in the indigenous community, joining former champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who was a part of the Wiradjuri people and who won seven Grand Slam singles titles from 1971 to 1980.
Barty is, in many respects, an old-school tennis talent. Her off-court demeanour is upbeat, articulate and modest. (She favours «we» and «team» more than «I» when discussing her rise.)
Her on-court demeanour is understated, close to stoic. There was barely a grunt and nary a shriek as she and Pliskova exchanged blows on the temporary main court, installed this year in Hard Rock Stadium.
Even if there had been more shouts and murmurs, it would have been a challenge to make them out given the poor acoustics that muffle noise even when a crowd is much bigger and more boisterous than it was for Saturday’s final.
But it is Barty’s tennis that is the true classic. She has pure technique, including a potent loop topspin forehand and a powerful, match-winning serve full of disguise and power, which she generates with great leg drive and racket-head speed.
Pliskova, a former No. 1 who was seeded No. 5 in Miami, leads the tour in aces. But Barty won that duel within a duel, finishing with 15 aces to Pliskova’s six and winning 86 per cent of her first-serve points to Pliskova’s 66 per cent.
Barty can also thrive at the net (she won the US Open doubles title last year with CoCo Vandeweghe) and can drive a two-handed backhand or hit a one-handed slice with enough bite to cause a world of geometric pain for tall players, like the 6-1 Pliskova, who thrive on higher strike zones and consistent pace.
Variety, it seems, is all the rage in women’s tennis. Bianca Andreescu, the 18-year-old Canadian wild card who made a stunning run to the title at Indian Wells, also has a diverse array of weaponry and, like Barty, a pronounced mid-rally taste for changing rhythm.
«I have always tried to bring as much variety onto the court as possible,» Barty said. «It’s always about trying to neutralize what your opponent’s doing. Obviously, there was a bit of a phase in women’s tennis where there was this big power and first strikers that were getting on top of rallies early. But I think the physicality in tennis, especially on the women’s side, has grown, which has allowed more players to neutralize off that big first ball and work their way into points.»
She proved her point repeatedly Saturday, displaying her improved returns and tracking down Pliskova’s flat bolts in the corners and slicing them back into play. But she has ample punching power of her own and quite an upside. It is easy to see her thriving on clay (see the French Open) and grass (see Wimbledon).
It is also easy to imagine that this breakthrough could have come earlier if she had not decided to step away from tennis after the 2014 US Open and focus on cricket instead. But in her view, it was that break, which ended in 2016, that has allowed her to better manage the expectations and begin fulfilling her tennis potential.
«I think I was an average cricketer, and I’m becoming a better tennis player,» she said. «It was certainly an enjoyable time in my life. It was a time that I think I found myself a little bit more as a person, and I met an amazing group of girls and a new circle of friends, I suppose. But I think tennis was always my calling.»
So it seems after the most significant victory of her career: The Miami Open is a part of the top tier of events on the regular tour, below only the four Grand Slam tournaments and the season-ending WTA Finals in prestige.
Barty might be merely one of so many tennis winners in 2019, but she has the ability and the personality to not only be a serial champion but a popular one, as well.