Sport

TENNIS SHOCKER

‘I am spent’: World No 1 Ash Barty retires at 25

‘I am spent’: World No 1 Ash Barty retires at 25
Ash Barty with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after defeating Danielle Collins in the Australian Open final at Melbourne Park on 29 January 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Dave Hunt)

In a shock move, women’s world No 1 Ashleigh Barty announced her retirement from professional tennis on Wednesday.

Australia’s world No 1 Ash Barty has retired at the age of 25 and at the peak of her game, citing the fulfilment of her tennis goals and fatigue with life on the Tour.

She quit with 15 titles, under two months after winning the Australian Open, her third Grand Slam singles triumph following Wimbledon in 2021 and the 2019 French Open.

“I know how much work it takes to bring the best out of yourself… I don’t have that in me anymore,” she said in a video posted on her Instagram account on Wednesday.

“I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top level anymore. I am spent.”

It marks Barty’s second retirement from the sport, having walked away from the game as a teenager in late 2014 after becoming disaffected by the Tour.

Australia’s Ash Barty plays a shot against Danielle Collins of the US during the Australian Open final at Melbourne Park on 29 January 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Joel Carrett)

She returned in 2016 and rose rapidly up the rankings, earning global acclaim for her brilliant tennis and fans’ affection for her unfailing good sportsmanship and laid-back demeanour.

She spent a total of 121 weeks as world No 1 and appeared destined for more success in the game’s biggest tournaments.

However, she never made any secret of her dislike for the touring life and her battles with homesickness.

“Ash Barty the person has so many dreams she wants to chase after that don’t necessarily involve travelling the world, being away from my family, being away from my home, which is where I’ve always wanted to be,” she said in the video, interviewed by her close friend and former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua.

“I’ll never, ever stop loving tennis, it’s been a massive part of my life, but I think it’s important that I get to enjoy the next part of my life as Ash Barty the person, not Ash Barty the athlete.”

‘What a player’

Barty suffered depression on the Tour after turning professional as a teenager, leading her to quit and briefly reinvent herself as a professional cricketer in her home state of Queensland.

When the Covid-19 pandemic halted elite tennis in 2020, she took nearly a year off from the game to spend time with family rather than rejoin the circuit after it resumed.

“I know I’ve done this before, but with a different feeling,” she said.

“I’m so grateful for tennis, it’s given me all of my dreams, plus more, but I know the time is right now for me to step away and chase other dreams and to put the racquets down.”

She bows out having earned almost $24-million in career prize money and as a national hero having ended a 44-year wait for a home winner at the Australian Open in January by beating American Danielle Collins in the final.

As the second aboriginal Australian to win a Grand Slam title, following in the footsteps of the great Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Barty has also become an idol for her country’s indigenous population.

Barty’s bombshell triggered tributes from players and officials.

“Happy for @ashbarty, gutted for tennis,” said Briton Andy Murray. What a player.”

Ash Barty in action against Danielle Collins during the Australian Open final at Melbourne Park on 29 January 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / James Ross)

WTA boss Steve Simon said Barty always led by example “through the unwavering professionalism and sportsmanship she brought to every match”.

“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.”

Her retirement echoes Justine Henin’s decision to quit in 2008 as a 25-year-old world No 1 with seven Grand Slam titles. Henin came out of retirement in 2010, inspired by fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters’s comeback.

Clijsters, the 2005 US Open champion, retired in 2007 at the age of 23 but returned after a two-year hiatus to claim another three Grand Slam titles. Reuters/DM

Barty fact box

  • Grand Slam titles: Three (French Open 2019, Wimbledon 2021, Australian Open 2022);
  • Began playing tennis at the age of five when parents Robert and Josie introduced her to the sport;
  • After starting on the professional entry-level ITF circuit in Australia in 2010, she played her first WTA qualifying event at the US Open the following year;
  • Claimed four singles titles and two doubles titles on the ITF circuit in 2012;
  • Won one WTA doubles title and reached three Grand Slam doubles finals with fellow Australian Casey Dellacqua in 2013 (Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open);
  • After winning another WTA doubles title in 2014, she took a break from tennis following the US Open and had a successful stint with the Brisbane Heat cricket team in the Women’s Big Bash League, before returning to tennis in 2016;
  • Broke into the top 20 in 2017, clinching her first WTA singles title at Kuala Lumpur as a qualifier. She reached two more singles finals before becoming Australia’s No 1;
  • Won her second and third WTA singles titles to finish 2018 ranked 15th in the world;
  • Sealed her first title of 2019 at Miami in March before clinching her maiden Grand Slam at the French Open, beating Czech Marketa Vondrousova in the final to become the first Australian woman player in 46 years to triumph at Roland Garros;
  • The same year, she rose to world No 1 in June and led Australia to their first Fed Cup final since 1993, where they lost to France;
  • Started her second season as the top-ranked player in 2020. Won her eighth WTA singles title at Adelaide and reached the semifinals of the Australian Open;
  • Did not play in any other Grand Slams in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, before returning at the Australian Open in 2021 where she lost in the quarterfinals. Retired from her second-round match at the French Open due to a hip injury;
  • Defeated Karolina Pliskova in her first Wimbledon final in 2021 to win her second Grand Slam title;
  • Finished 2021 as the world No 1 for a third consecutive year, winning a Tour-leading five titles;
  • Beat Danielle Collins in the 2022 Australian Open final to win her third Grand Slam title.
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