“If I can break through to the Challenger level then that’ll be unbelievable for me. I’ve got the game to do it, I feel like I’m playing well.”Matt Barton
There is a well-known saying that there’s no recovery like a St Kilda Beach recovery. Well, maybe it’s not that common, but it certainly rings true for Matt Barton.
After advancing to the semifinals at the Australian Open 2013 Play-off at Melbourne Park on Wednesday, Barton sure needed the blast of cold water. His five-set quarterfinal match against young-gun Nick Kyrgios lasted just shy of four hours under the punishing Melbourne summer sun.
The beach was an obvious recovery spot for the eighth seed. He’s grown up around sun and sand all his life, living in Collaroy on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. His home is precious to him and after spending hours on court, the 20-year-old just needed to hit the ocean.
“I try to get back home a fair bit because I love it there,” Barton explained.
“It’s such a great place on the beach in Collaroy. It’s just such a great place so I try and go for blocks of tournaments, maybe a month or so, and then head back for a few weeks.”
But as a professional tennis player, staying home for extended periods is never that easy. This is especially for someone like Barton, who is pushing himself to the limit playing tournaments around the world to boost him into higher rankings.
Currently at No.427 in the world – standing as Australia’s 17th-ranked male – Barton is winding down a hectic 2012 in typical fashion – with more tournaments.
2012 has been a successful season for the 20-year-old, jammed with 28 ITF tournaments across Australia and Asia.
It also marked his first major milestone, with Barton winning his first singles title at Alice Springs taking out other top-ranked Australians Sam Groth and close friend Michael Look in the process.
If luck had gone his way, Barton would’ve pocketed a few more doubles titles, too.
He and partner Michael Look stumbled in three consecutive Futures finals at Margaret River, Traralgon and most recently Bendigo, where the pair lost the super-tiebreak 12-14 and conceded six match points.
Not that Barton is dwelling on those losses, however. A self-proclaimed “laid-back guy from Northern Beaches”, he was able to see the funny side of it all.
“Oh, yeah, in Bendigo we were up 9-6 in the super tiebreak… we played really good doubles and “Looky” was playing really well too,” he laughed, shaking his head.
“They were all great finals but we just couldn’t win them. But that’s the way it goes, that’s tennis, and hopefully next time we can get the win.
“Me and “Looky” get along really well, we’re great buddies and I just love playing doubles with him. But we’re just yet to get that win.”
But Barton is looking towards bigger and better things in 2013. After some sound performances in 2012, he feels ready to move on from the ITF Futures events into Challengers.
“I won my first title this year, that’s what I’ve been aiming for, and now hopefully I can move onto the Challenger level, which is what I’m aiming for next year,” he said.
“If I can break through to the Challenger level then that’ll be unbelievable for me. I’ve got the game to do it, I feel like I’m playing well.”
With 51 tournaments played over the past two years, it’s clear tennis has been a huge part of Matthew Barton’s life. And it’s been there ever since he started watching sister Alexandra play when he was only four years old.
He grew up idolising players including Marat Safin for his “unbelievable ball striking” and Andre Agassi, who the 20-year-old said helped him shape his game today.
“I read his book, and Agassi’s just a great inspiration to me,” Barton said.
“It’s just things like his work ethic which I’ve tried to copy with myself as well doing hours on the court, running and work in the gym.”
And that high-intensity work ethic can be seen in his training regime. Barton works closely with his coach Mark Southwood and his trainer, who has pushed him to the brink mentally and physically for the past two months in Collaroy to prepare him for the next stage of his career.
“I’ve worked really hard and I’m just happy that it’s all coming good for me … the progress we’re doing is just unbelievable,” he said.
“I hired (my trainer) just to keep pushing me exactly for these five-set games, to go deep in the fifth and be able to cope with it mentally and physically.”
A sound athlete, Barton isn’t the only one with an impressive resume on the sporting front. It runs in the blood.
His grandfather, Aubrey, was set to embark on a promising career with Barton’s beloved Canterbury Bulldogs before succumbing to a career-ending injury.
“He (Aubrey) played three first-grade games but broke his leg and never played again which is really disappointing for him, because he was an up-and-comer,” Barton explained.
It is for that reason Barton’s greatest passion – outside tennis, of course – is his Bulldogs.
“I love the Bulldogs. I love the NRL too, it’s just such a great game and I’m brought up on the beaches and the NRL’s big there. I just love it.”
Back home, Barton travels to ANZ Stadium every week to watch his side play. Over the years he has witnessed the Bulldogs’ many highs and lows, from their 2004 premiership to this year’s shattering Grand Final loss to the Melbourne Storm.
But, for now, Barton is focused on his semifinal match against fifth-seed Ben Mitchell on Friday, who he lost to at Margaret River in October. Mitchell may have the history, but Barton said the five-set format may shake things up, alongside the motivation stemming from an Australian Open wildcard spot up for grabs.
“(Mitchell) beat me this year and he’s beaten me last year, but we’ve had really tight matches, it’s only been a few points here and there so it’s going to be an interesting match,” he said.
“I’m feeling confident, my game suits playing him but I just have to execute my game. I’ll go in with a game plan and just try and stick to it and hopefully over five sets it’ll be a different story.
“To play in the Australian Open would be a dream come true. I’m going to give it everything come tomorrow and just try and fight (hard) and keep running, keep scrambling and just try and do everything I can.”
But before that, there’s just one more thing he plans to do – another trip to the beach, just like home.