Barty's Wimbledon anniversary comeback on Centre Court

Three years to the day since she became Wimbledon ladies singles champion, Ash Barty has made a hit-and-giggle, winning return to Centre Court -- and loved every minute of her anniversary comeback.

With cruel irony, it was her compatriot Alex de Minaur's hip-injury withdrawal from his quarter-final match with Novak Djokovic that ensured Australia's 2021 winner Barty was asked to step in and bring a touch of star quality to help fill the void on the main stage on Wednesday.

Playing alongside her best mate Casey Dallacqua in the legends' invitation doubles, Barty could not have looked happier, mixing missed easy volleys and ballooned forehands while also providing just a few tantalising glimpses of the quality we've all really been missing in her absence. 

Ash Barty
Ash Barty was all smiles during her winning return to "the best court in the world".

The Australian buddies ended up beating Andrea Petkovic and Magdalena Rybarikova 5-7 6-3 (10-7) but, in truth, nobody really cared about the score. 

For it was just uplifting to see the 28-year-old, now a mum of a one-year-old baby boy, having a bit of fun with her old pal, chuckling away and apologising profusely for another rusty error or looking just the tiniest bit pleased with herself for the odd glorious memory-evoking winner.

"It felt incredible. Obviously, this is the place that holds some of my most cherished memories, and it's really nice to be back with my best mate on the court. It's pretty special," said the 28-year-old.

Asked about learning late of her move to Centre Court, she said: "Yeah, it was a big surprise. It was a very nice surprise. I was making lunch for my son at our house when I got an email come through saying we'd been shifted to Centre.

Ash Barty and Casey Dallacqua
Best friends Ash Barty and Casey Dallacqua had a ball on Centre Court.

"I called Casey straight away and said, 'This is a bit different to what we signed up for!' But we were excited.

"It's a beautiful court. It's, in my opinion, the best court in the world. I was very grateful and very fortunate that we were able to share an experience out there again today together.

Yet there was a poignancy in watching this most masterful of players playing at half-pace in an arena two-thirds empty on the three-year anniversary of her triumph over Karolina Pliskova, a day when she delivered a tennis masterclass for the world to enjoy.

One volley from Barty in particular - an exquisitely, acutely-angled backhand that skimmed across the net from one side of the court to the other to earn the biggest cheer from the sparse crowd - proved the most shining reminder of that rarest of talents that made her world No.1 just two years ago before her shock retirement.

Even if she's made it abundantly clear there'll be no proper competitive comeback, still the winning mentality is there as she upped her game in the deciding champions' tiebreak to make sure her return was a winning one.

But when a reporter asked her later about when she was going to make her real return to tennis, she quickly put him right with a flowing backhand.

"You guys are killing me. I don't know how much more. Anyone have a thesaurus for a word that I can use for 'no'?" she sighed.

"No, mate. No, I'm not."

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