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Reunited with coach, Australian Barty back in the groove

(Reuters) - World number one Ash Barty feels refreshed after a lengthy break from tennis due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 24-year-old hopes the interval would prove a blessing as she returned to training to get ready for the home Australian summer.

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - WTA Premier 5 - Qatar Open - Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, Doha, Qatar - February 28, 2020 Australia's Ashleigh Barty in action during her semi final match against Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova REUTERS/Ibraheem Al Omari

The Queenslander did not play a match since February and opted not to defend her French Open title after also skipping the U.S. Open Grand Slam in New York.

She, however, will start the 2021 season as the top-ranked women’s player after the WTA rankings system was adjusted due to the pandemic.

Barty recently reunited with her coach Craig Tyzzer, who was stranded in Victoria due to state border closures in Australia aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, to begin preparations for the Australian Open in January.

“For me, it is a continuation of what we have been working on for the last two years,” Barty told The Australian, adding that the training felt like Tyzzer “had never left”.

“(COVID-19 has been) a massive punch in the face to think about your perspective and to think about the things that really matter to you on a personal level.

“The most challenging part (of tennis) is that we are never home for more than two or three weeks at a time, so to actually be able to have two or three months off at home (in a) forced break that hopefully becomes a blessing.”

Barty, who played professional cricket during a year out from tennis earlier in her career, was a regular in the stands to cheer Australian Football League side Richmond Tigers and also honed her golf skills during the COVID-19 break.

She also took part in beach training sessions that were focussed on breathing exercises and run by former world number one and two-time U.S. Open champion Pat Rafter.

“It was really nice, just for a change in scenery ... And it was challenging,” she said.

“I mingled with a couple of the surfers as well and saw what they did, and obviously that is something they are quite accustomed to, controlling their breathing.”

Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Pritha Sarkar

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