Controversy erupts after Ash Barty equals Serena Williams record

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·Sports Editor
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Ash Barty and Serena Williams, pictured here in action on the tennis court.
Ash Barty has equalled Serena Williams' record with three year-end World No.1 rankings. Image: Getty

Ash Barty has officially secured the year-end World No.1 ranking for the third-consecutive season, despite ending her 2021 campaign on Saturday.

The Australian star announced on Saturday that she won't play again this year, officially withdrawing from the year-end WTA Finals.

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But her incredible season, in which she won five titles including a second major at Wimbledon, has seen her accumulate enough points to secure the year-end No.1 ranking.

It will be the third-straight year in which Barty has finished with the top ranking, equalling the record of tennis legends Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Serena Williams.

Aryna Sabalenka's loss to Ekaterina Alexandrova in the quarter-finals at Moscow's Kremlin Cup sealed the deal for Barty, who holds a massive rankings lead over her nearest rivals.

Barty added a second grand slam crown to her collection at Wimbledon in July, as well as landing titles in Cincinnati, Stuttgart, Miami and Melbourne.

The Aussie star is the only woman to have hoisted trophies on grass, clay and hard courts in 2021.

"No doubt the player of the year," esteemed coach and former Australian Fed Cup captain David Taylor told AAP.

"You look at Roger (Federer), he can tactically win with such an array of tactics and having coached on the WTA Tour for so long, you're often left with quite a very narrow set of tactics for most of your players on there.

Ash Barty, pictured here after winning Wimbledon.
Ash Barty won five titles in 2021, including her second major at Wimbledon. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images)

"With Ash, she's dangerous on all surfaces, which she's obviously already proven, and she's won the two biggest grand slams on the most contrasting surfaces so she's got a lot of ways to win matches.

"The WTA has a lot of great ball strikers but she's a great tennis player and that's the big difference.

"I'm stating the obvious but she really is the best tennis player, not just the best ball striker."

However Barty's impressive feat has sparked debate among tennis fans, with some of the belief that she shouldn't be recognised as having finished World No.1 in three-straight years.

Barty didn't play for the majority of 2020 due to concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic, but held onto the No.1 spot because the rankings were frozen.

That meant she was able to stay home in Australia and hold onto the No.1 ranking despite not playing for months.

Ash Barty turns attention to Australian Open

Barty hasn't played since the US Open in August and says her full focus now is on preparing for the Australian summer and another tilt at her home grand slam in Melbourne in January.

However ending her season prematurely will come at a price financially.

The Queenslander pocketed the biggest cheque in tennis history, for some $6.4 million, after winning the WTA Finals in Shenzhen in 2019 before last year's edition was cancelled because of the pandemic.

But not wanting to endure a second two-week stint in quarantine in barely two months, having returned home only last month, Barty has opted against travelling again this year.

"I wanted to let everyone know that I won't be competing in any further tournaments in 2021, including the WTA Finals in Mexico," Barty said on Saturday.

"It was a difficult decision but I need to prioritise my body and my recovery from our 2021 season and focus on having the strongest pre-season for the Australian summer.

"With ongoing challenges of travelling back to Queensland and quarantine requirements, I am not willing to compromise my preparation for January.

"I wish the WTA team and the players all the best for a successful WTA Finals and the rest of the year."

with AAP

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