Ash Barty exited the Australian Open at the quarter-finals
Ashleigh Barty was walked away from tennis at the age of 25 Image Credit: AFP

Ashleigh Barty’s shock retirement from tennis on Wednesday sent tremors across the sporting world and beyond — the 25-year-old world No. 1 deciding to hang up her racket only two months after becoming the first home-grown player to win the Australian Open in 44 years.

Despite her young age, Barty has already achieved more than most could ever dream of, with three Grand Slams among her many titles — not to mention a season as a professional cricketer with Brisbane Heat and also one golf championship title to her name.

Barty is not the first and will certainly not be the last superstar athlete to quit early, but few have done it so soon after such an achievement, and even fewer have managed to stay away.

The annals of sport are littered with early retirements — through injury, disillusionment, parenthood and mental issues — but thankfully most of them either go on to happier lives away from sport or return to the game they love.

The most famous that springs to mind is a certain Michael Jordan, who catapulted NBA basketball into a new universe with his almost single-handed ‘three-peat’ of titles with the Chicago Bulls from 1991 to 1993 — only to abruptly retire and announce he wanted to become an MLB baseball player before the ticker tape had settled. Thankfully for lovers of the original GOAT, he was soon back in a Bulls uniform following a failed time in the baseball minor leagues and was leading the Chicago side to three more NBA crowns from 1996 to 1998.

Michael Jordan with the NBA trophy in 1991
Michael Jordan quit the NBA after three years of glory with the Chicago Bulls

Unfortunately, others have retirement forced upon them — such as footballer Fabrice Muamba, who had to hang up his boots at the age of 23 after a cardiac arrest while playing for Bolton Wanderers against Tottenham.

The list of retirees who quit at the top and never returned is notable and Barty would certainly be near the pinnacle when it comes to these achievers were she to stay away from the competitive tennis courts.

Lorena Ochoa stunned the golfing world in 2010 when she quit at the age of 28, having bossed the LPGA for the past three years with numerous titles and two majors to her name.

Florence ‘Flo-Jo’ Griffith-Joyner walked away from sprinting after claiming gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, setting the 100m and 200m world records in the process. She was dogged with accusations of doping and quit the track at the age of 29 in 1989 before her untimely death in 1998.

Nico Rosberg called it quits after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

From the athletics track to the racetrack, Nico Rosberg’s retirement from Formula One is still fresh in the memory — driving off into the sunset days after finally beating Mercedes teammate and rival Lewis to the Drivers’ Championship in Abu Dhabi in 2016. He was only 31 and cited a desire to spend more time with his family as the reason behind his shock decision. Given her recent engagement to her fiance, professional golfer Garry Kissick, family could certainly be on Barty’s mind.

For every shock permanent retirement, there is always — like Jordan — the ‘returner’. There will be an eternal hope that stars such as Barty will have a change of heart and return to thrill the crowds once again.

Barty supporters need only look as far as the WTA to see the likes of Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, who all picked up a racket once again and returned to the court after performing a retirement U-turn.

They can point to the fact that Barty was lured back to tennis once before. In late 2014 following a successful juniors career, Barty took a 21-month sabbatical from tennis to play cricket with Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League. She returned to tennis in May 2016.

The rest is — quite literally — history. Unless, maybe, just maybe, they see a return to service from the Australian hero in the future.