At the 2022 Australian Open, Ashleigh Barty is showing off an all-court look reminiscent of the Big Three. In the heat of the Melbourne summer, her tennis is dampening the typical baseline-gunner style of play that has dominated women’s tennis for years.
Sure, the two-time Grand Slam winner has a long way to go to touch Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who have 20 apiece, but let’s just talk about playing style for a hot minute.
How She’s Like Federer
When you saw Barty frustrate the power-hitting Amanda Anisimova, who you’d think might hit the Aussie off the court, Federer jumped straight to mind. Both the Swiss maestro and Barty move with fleet feet and employ svengali anticipation. Like the Swiss maestro, Barty seems to be able to “hold” shots on her racquet until the last millisecond when her opponent cuts in one direction. That opens the door for some superb finishing– be it with a crossbody overhead, a slice into the open court or a cutting volley.
She’s got all the shots, and she makes it look easy.
But delving inside the numbers, the serve is the key to her Federer-like skills. Let’s be blunt: She protects her serve better than any woman on tour. In 2021, she held serve a stunning 81% of the time. That’s a full 5 percentage points higher than the next-best, Aryna Sabalenka
At 5’5” Barty defies convention that to have a big serve, you need to be tall. Same goes Federer, who leads taller players in several key serving categories. They do it with enough power in the right spots– an uncanny skill.
And oh that slice! Both Barty and Federer use a pizza cutter to pin their opponents.
How She’s Like Nadal
She can hit the forehand with the lasso finish, absolutely. They both have arguably the most accurate smash in the game. But Barty might remind you of the King of Clay in a hidden stat category where they both dominate: Second serve points won.
Barty consistently hovers around 60% in an area where anything over 50% is considered good. Nadal is sneakily the absolute master of this and the historical leader on the ATP Tour. In both cases, it’s not necessarily the second serve itself. They’re not going for anything huge or outrageous– it’s what they do after. Court positioning and looking to hit a forehand immediately after serving is what puts the Spaniard and the Aussie high in this area of the game.
How She’s Like Djokovic
This one is less obvious: They both open up the court quickly. Barty and Djokovic are two of the most consistent hitters in tennis. If golf’s “greens in regulation” could be translated to tennis, these two champions would dominate the category. Despite both having excellent technical volleys– neither uses this area as much as they could. But when they do volley, they are ready to lock in and do it well.
In her win over Anisimova, for example, Barty was a perfect 6/6 on net points won. She doesn’t venture in nearly as much as Federer. That’s because she so often doesn’t have to. Much like Djokovic, a preferred pattern is to open up the court with deep angles, then look to inflict damage in the opposite court.
Barty’s superstar status has been a slow burn. Serena Williams once famously called her “cute” and “nice” while praising her skill on court. The homebody Australian leads a quiet life and stays as far away from controversy as possible. But the entertainment value of her handy, ingenious style of play could only be kept on the down-low for so long. Fans are starting to realize how fun she is. It might be time to throw yourself a Barty “watch” party.