Multi-talented Ashleigh Barty excels at so many sports that she has played professional cricket and even won a golf tournament, but it was in tennis where she rose to become the best in the world.
In January she took her place among the giants of Australian sport by winning her home Grand Slam.
It was fitting that Chris O’Neil, the last home-grown player to win the Australian Open, in 1978, was in the stadium to witness Barty ending a 44-year hoodoo and thrilling a nation glued to their televisions.
Less than two months later, Barty on Wednesday announced her shock retirement from tennis aged just 25.
She leaves the sport having been world No. 1 for more than two years and with three Grand Slam singles titles, having also won the French Open in 2019 and Wimbledon last year.
It is unclear what she will do next, but it would be no surprise if Barty ended up becoming a champion in another sport, because few athletes can boast such a varied sporting CV as the down-to-earth Barty.
Tennis to cricket
Widely respected as one of the nicest players in women’s tennis, Barty began playing the sport as a child in the Queensland state capital Brisbane.
But it was a trip to the Australian Open for a training camp at the age of about 12 that proved to be the spark that drove her to the summit of the sport.
“To see how professional it was and to see everyone going about their business was really eye-opening. My first taste of it was in the juniors and I loved it,” she said at the Australian Open in January. “That kind of lit the flame.”
Barty 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 surprise decision three years later to ditch tennis for cricket, signing for Brisbane Heat in the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League.
“In short, I think I needed just to find myself,” said Barty who, while never shrinking in the limelight, hardly appeared to revel in it.
She said that while cricket gave her “a different perspective about sport”, the lure of tennis was never far away. She returned after a season out.
Barty broke through for her maiden Grand Slam triumph at the French Open in 2019, became Australia’s first women’s world No. 1 since Evonne Goolagong Cawley and finally won a cherished Wimbledon crown last year.
So dominant has she been that she ended 2021 as the top-ranked player for a third consecutive year, joining Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Chris Evert as the only women to achieve the feat.
Barty should have returned to Paris to defend her Roland Garros title in 2020, but she pulled out over coronavirus fears and picked up her golf clubs instead.
And on a course designed by Greg Norman near Brisbane, she won the Brookwater Golf Club women’s title with a commanding victory.
“Is there anything you can’t do?” asked one social media user at the time.
Barty and long-time partner Garry Kissick got engaged in November, sparking a frenzy of congratulations from fellow tennis stars.
She hardly played any competitive tennis in the second half of last year because of the pandemic.
Despite that long layoff Barty was imperious in winning the Australian Open.
There was an air of inevitability about her title victory as she tore through the field before beating American Danielle Collins in the final in straight sets.
That was followed by a wonderful moment for Barty as she received the winner’s Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup from seven-time Grand Slam champion and fellow indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, who won the last of her four Australian Opens in 1977.
Barty said on Wednesday that she had nothing more to give.
In a tearful social media video message with her close friend and former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua, Barty said she was “so ready” to call it quits after achieving her lifetime ambition to win Wimbledon.
“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,” Barty said.
Reaction to world No. 1’s retirement
Some reactions to Australia’s world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty announcing her retirement from professional tennis at the age of 25.
AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON
“I particularly want to say ‘thank you’ to you, Ash, for inspiring a generation of young people and particularly a generation of young Indigenous people in this country. None of us will forget, of course, the triumphant win in Wimbledon and none of us will ever forget that incredible comeback down there at the Australian Open this year, which once again showed everybody what you can do when you really apply yourself.”
WOMEN’S TENNIS ASSOCIATION CEO STEVE SIMON
“With her accomplishments at the Grand Slams, WTA Finals and reaching the pinnacle ranking of No. 1 in the world, she has clearly established herself as one the great champions of the WTA. We wish Ash only the very best and know that she will continue to be a tremendous ambassador for the sport of tennis as she embarks on this new chapter of her life. We will miss her.”
TWICE GRAND SLAM CHAMPION SIMONA HALEP
“Ash, what can I say, you know I have tears right? My friend, I will miss you on tour. You were different, and special, and we shared some amazing moments. What’s next for you? Grand Slam champion in golf?!”
FORMER WOMEN’S WORLD NO. 1 TRACY AUSTIN
“Happy for you, Ash to go out on your terms but the tennis world will miss a great champion. Love your elegant, athletic style of play and have always been impressed with the way you handle yourself on and off the court. Enjoy the next chapter.”
TWICE GRAND SLAM CHAMPION PETRA KVITOVA
“Ash, I have no words ... actually you are showing your true class leaving tennis in this beautiful way. I am so happy I could share the court with you. Tennis will never be the same without you! I admire you as a player and a person ... wishing you only the best!”
FORMER MEN’S WORLD NO. 1 ANDY MURRAY
“Happy for Ash, gutted for tennis. What a player.”
WOMEN’S WORLD NO. 8 KAROLINA PLISKOVA
“Congrats on an incredible career Ash. It was a privilege to share a court with you. Wishing you all the best in your next chapter. You will be missed.”
AMERICAN TENNIS PLAYER SHELBY ROGERS
“What a legend. Incredible inspiration on and off the court. One of the best human beings I’ve ever met.”
AUSTRALIAN TENNIS PLAYER DARIA SAVILLE
“So much respect for you Ash! Your whole career you’ve done it your way! Always followed your heart and I hope you keep doing this!”
AUSTRALIAN FORMER WHEELCHAIR TENNIS PLAYER DYLAN ALCOTT
“Ash Barty. Amazing tennis player but even better person. A champion in every sense of the word. Very proud of you, mate.”
AMERICAN TENNIS PLAYER MADISON KEYS
“An incredible tennis player but more importantly one of the nicest people on tour. Congratulations Ash on an amazing career and good luck with what’s next!”
Short but sweet: Key moments in career
Reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion Ashleigh Barty announced her shock retirement from tennis on Wednesday aged 25. Here are a few highlights from her short but illustrious career:
‘Dream’ Wimbledon triumph
The Australian wins Wimbledon on the 50th anniversary of fellow indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s triumph there. Barty’s victory in 2021 fulfils a dream that leaves her wondering how long she wants to carry on. In her retirement message Barty — who won the French Open in 2019 — described her Wimbledon crown as her “one true dream”.
“I’ve had a lot of incredible moments in my career that have been pivotal moments and Wimbledon last year changed a lot for me as a person,” she said, describing the emotion of an athlete who has worked hard her entire life “for one goal”.
“To be able to win Wimbledon — which was my dream, the one true dream that I wanted in tennis — that really changed my perspective.”
Australian Open at last
Even after Wimbledon “there was just a little part of me that wasn’t quite satisfied, wasn’t quite fulfilled”, Barty now says. “And then came the challenge of the Australian Open.”
In January, Barty became the first Australian to win her home Grand Slam in 44 years.
The world No. 1 was 5-1 down in the second set against fearless American Danielle Collins but came storming back to win on a tiebreak and sweep past the 27th seed in straight sets.
Taking the Australian Open title is “my perfect way to celebrate what an amazing journey my tennis career has been”, Barty said as she revealed her decision to leave the sport. “As a person this is what I want. I want to chase after some other dreams.”
Leaving tennis, Act I
Barty decides out of the blue aged 18 to take a break from tennis — she had won the junior Wimbledon title in 2011 and reached three Grand Slam doubles finals.
After putting down her tennis racket, Barty tries her hand at cricket and turned out for the Brisbane Heat in the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League.
After one season, Barty decides to return to her first sporting love, tennis.
Golf talent, too
After skipping the French Open over Covid-19 fears, Barty picks up her golf clubs in September 2020 and claims the Brookwater Golf Club women’s title near Brisbane.
“Champions,” she wrote on Instagram accompanying a picture of herself holding a trophy alongside men’s winner Louis Dobbelaar.
Barty peppers her press conferences with references to her “great team” and often uses the word “we” in tribute to them. Her fiance, aspiring professional golfer Garry Kissick, plays a pivotal role.
While she largely prefers to keep the relationship away from the public eye, she announced in November that they had got engaged.
“Future husband,” she writes on Instagram, sharing a photo of the smiling couple embracing with an engagement ring on her finger.