SYDNEY: Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty stunned the tennis world yesterday by retiring from the sport aged just 25, saying she had fulfilled her dreams and was “spent physically”. Barty dropped the bombshell weeks after becoming the first home Australian Open champion in 44 years, joining only a handful of players to win a Grand Slam on three different surfaces.
In an emotional social media video message with her close friend and former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua, the world number one said she was “so ready” to call it quits after achieving her life-time ambition of winning Wimbledon last year. “Success for me is knowing that I’ve given absolutely everything, everything I can. I’m fulfilled, I’m happy and I know how much work it takes to bring the best out of yourself,” said the three-time Grand Slam winner.
“It’s just I don’t have that in me anymore. I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and kind of everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top level anymore. “I think I just know that I’m absolutely, I am spent. I just know physically I had nothing more to give and that for me is success.” One of the most respected and popular players in women’s tennis, Barty also became the best, with her dizzying array of slices, pinpoint serving and seamless forehand typifying her all-round game.
Few athletes can boast such a varied sporting resume as the down-to-earth Australian. Barty began playing tennis as a child in Brisbane and went on to win the junior Wimbledon title as a 15-year-old in 2011. But the expectations that came with success took their toll and she made a shock decision three years later to ditch tennis for cricket, signing for Brisbane Heat in the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League.
But the lure of tennis was never far away and she returned after a season out, breaking through for her maiden Grand Slam triumph at the French Open in 2019 and becoming Australia’s first women’s world number one since Evonne Goolagong Cawley 50 years ago. Barty finally won a cherished Wimbledon crown last year before her Australian Open triumph at Melbourne Park in January, storming back from 5-1 down in the second set against American Danielle Collins to triumph 6-3, 7-6 (7/2).
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” she said of retirement. “To be able to win Wimbledon, which was my dream, the one true dream that I wanted in tennis, that really changed my perspective. And I just had that gut feeling after Wimbledon and had spoken to my team quite a lot about it. “And there was just a little part of me that wasn’t quite satisfied, wasn’t quite fulfilled. And then came the challenge of the Australian Open and I think that for me just feels like the most perfect way.”
‘No 1 role model’
Praise poured in for Barty as tennis took in the shock announcement. The Women’s Tennis Association praised her as “an incredible ambassador for the sport”. “For your love of the game thank you @ashbarty for the incredible mark you’ve left on-court, off-court and in our hearts,” the WTA said, while Tennis Australia added: “Forever a world number one role model.”
Some of the sport’s top names also paid tribute with fellow Grand Slam winner Simona Halep tweeting: “Ash, what can I say, you know I have tears right? My friend, I will miss you on tour.” British star Andy Murray tweeted that he was happy for Barty but “gutted for tennis. What a player”. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked her for “inspiring a country”.
Barty has been world number one for more than two years and said after her Australian Open win that she wanted time to consider her next move, withdrawing from the prestigious early season hardcourt tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami. Late last year she became engaged to long-term boyfriend Garry Kissick, who was ever-present courtside when she played and often posted supportive messages on social media.- AFP