Ash Barty: The ultimate ending and a happy new beginning
Departing the pro tour on the ultimate high note as world No.1 and reigning Wimbledon and AO champion, Ash Barty begins a happy new chapter with more plans in tennis.
Alongside exquisite shot-making and a rare but graceful court craft, spectacular timing has long been an Ash Barty trademark.
So too is Barty’s ability to stay true to the strong personal values that attracted thousands of adoring fans with every high-stakes match win.
And so it was that just weeks after becoming the first Australian player to triumph at her home Grand Slam in more than four decades, the 25-year-old Barty shocked the world by announcing her immediate retirement from professional tennis.
“A lot of different things have happened in my life that have changed my perspective and timing is everything,” Barty reflected a day after revealing the news through an emotional video interview with her close friend Casey Dellacqua on social media.
“I just knew that for me the time was right. I’d given absolutely everything that I could to the sport, and I knew that it wouldn’t be fair to my team and the people that have invested so much time and energy into my life to not be 100 per cent committed for them.
“It’s been a hell of a journey. I wouldn’t change a thing and I certainly have no regrets.”
An outpouring of love and support from fans and fellow competitors swiftly followed Barty’s announcement.
As players including Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Andy Murray and Thanasi Kokkinakis shared heartfelt words on social media, Barty was buoyed by how few of them mentioned her tennis achievements.
“You know, we spent weeks and weeks and weeks together, competed against each other, tried to bring out the best in each other,” Barty related, noting the many friends she’ll miss after stepping away from the professional arena.
“What really brought a smile to my face was the messages, not often did they mention our matches or the time we spent on court together. It was more getting to know the athletes as people and building relationships with them as people.”
Yet on-court brilliance will forever be a part of the story for Barty, who peaked at world No.1 soon after claiming the first of her three Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros in June 2019.
When her name is removed from the rankings (at her own request) in the WTA’s next release, Barty will have reigned on top for a total 120 weeks – the seventh longest stint in history.
Alongside 15 WTA singles titles in total (the first at Kuala Lumpur in 2017), Barty claimed 12 in doubles. After four Grand Slams finals appearances with Dellacqua, she achieved her major doubles breakthrough at the 2018 US Open alongside Coco Vandeweghe.
In a proud representative career, Barty led Australia to the Billie Jean King Cup (then Fed Cup) final in 2019 and claimed an Olympic bronze medal in mixed doubles with John Peers at Tokyo last year.
With her wedding to fiancé Garry Kissick scheduled for later this year, the Queenslander now eyes a new chapter, explaining it will be as “Ash Barty the person and not the athlete.”
From one Australian tennis legend to another…
Evonne Goolagong Cawley, after long-time friend and champion successor Ash Barty announced her immediate retirement from tennis. pic.twitter.com/cgrP2H5DY1
— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) March 23, 2022
But the sport that she first experienced at the West Brisbane Tennis Centre as a five-year-old will remain a firm part of the story for Barty, who has previously dabbled in coaching during breaks from the tour.
“I’ll never fall out of love with tennis and never stop loving everything that it gave me, but I’m really excited now to be able to have more time to contribute in other ways,” Barty smiled.
“And my purpose in tennis will never change, it’s just my contribution will. Instead of playing myself, I can’t wait to spend more time with young girls on court, with the communities and really allow tennis to be exposed to so many other people all around our nation.
“I think it’s a beautiful sport. It brought me so much joy, and I would love to give so many other people that opportunity to experience what I felt when I was a five-year-old girl. And also just know that this is a sport, you can play for life.
“You meet people that are just incredible and it opened up so many different opportunities for me as a person … I can’t wait to bring that to so many other people all across our nation.”
While the Grand Slam-winning Barty can provide endless inspiration to those aspiring young players, she similarly draws energy from the tremendous support she received on the journey to lifting her many trophies.
Asked if the intense attention that followed her Australian Open 2022 victory was a factor in her retirement decision, a beaming Barty expressed her gratitude for those many loyal supporters.
“I’m so lucky to get so much and support here in Australia. So many people have made my career so much more fun and being able to share that with them and experience that with them made it all the better,” she commented.
“The Australian public allowed me to be myself. They allowed me to make mistakes, they allowed me to be imperfect and it just made it so much more fun. It really did make that Australian Open so much more enjoyable for all of us, to be able to go ‘this is one last crack, let’s see what we can do’. And it was really cool.”
It seems unfathomable that even as Barty hit that final forehand winner in the AO 2022 final – and celebrated with rare and unfiltered emotion – the new champion was already contemplating that it could be her last match in a professional setting.
“We’d been in discussions for a while,” she admitted, explaining a shift in perspective that began with her 2021 Wimbledon triumph.
“And there was this beautiful challenge of trying to play the Australian Open and trying to win an Australian Open, which was always another goal of mine. And to do that as a team, and to do that with the people that meant so much to me, was incredible.”
At world No.1 and with long-coveted silverware gleaming in her trophy cabinet, leaving on a high provided the ultimate ending.
“There is no perfect way, there is no perfect timing,” said Barty. “But this was our perfect way and it was a great finish.”