COVID-19 could strike Barty a cruel blow

Darren Walton
·2-min read

COVID-19 threatens to rob Ashleigh Barty of a place in the tennis history books as the first player to capture four consecutive Newcombe Medals.

In any other year, Barty would have been a shoo-in to be crowned Australian tennis's most outstanding performer despite stellar seasons also from Alex de Minaur, John Millman and Jordan Thompson.

Barty successfully retained her season-ending world No.1 ranking after landing her eighth career title in Adelaide in January before reaching the Australian Open semi-finals under intense pressure as the top-seeded big local hope.

But the coronavirus pandemic forced officials to abandon Tennis Australia's night of nights, usually staged at Melbourne's Crown Casino at the start of December.

The country's biggest stars normally trade sweaty tennis attire to showcase their glamorous best on the red carpet.

Barty, the 2019 French Open and WTA Finals winner, would have been a hot favourite to claim her fourth straight "Newk" and eclipse Samantha Stosur's hat-trick from 2010-12.

Tennis officials are still hoping to somehow award the Newcombe Medal, possibly during the rescheduled Australian Open in February, but have yet to announce any plans.

It would be a cruel blow for the 24-year-old Barty if they don't, especially after the AFL's Brownlow Medal, rugby league's Dally M Medal and rugby union's John Eales Medal were all awarded this year despite the coronavirus restrictions.

Barty, who has opted to play doubles with American Jennifer Brady at the 2021 AO, would have faced worthy challengers for the top gong, with de Minaur, Millman and Thompson also certain to have been short-listed finalists.

De Minaur, who shared Newcomble Medal honours in 2018 with Barty, continued his upward spiral with a career-best grand-slam charge to the US Open quarter-finals to finish the year as world No.23 and ahead of Nick Kyrgios as Australia's top-ranked male for a second straight year.

In addition to going within a couple of aces of conquering Roger Federer at a grand slam for the second time in Melbourne in January, Millman finally captured his maiden ATP title in Kazakhstan in November.

The 31-year-old was closing in on a first-time seeding at a major before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the 2021 summer schedule.

Ranked 38th and now with only one lead-up event before next year's Open, Millman has been denied that opportunity to clinch a top-32 seeding.

Thompson climbed to a career-high No.43 in the world in 2020, crowning his excellent year with a first-time grand slam fourth-round appearance in New York in September and also teaming with Millman to help Australia to a Davis Cup qualifying win over Brazil in March.

Wheelchair ace Dylan Alcott would also have been a likely finalist after landing his 10th and 11th grand slam quad singles titles in Melbourne and Paris.