FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Australian Open - Second Round - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, January 16, 2019. Australia's Ashleigh Barty waves to spectators after winning the match against China's Wang Yafan. REUTERS/Edgar Su
March 23, 2022
By Rohith Nair
(Reuters) – Ash Barty’s decision to retire at the very top of her game, on her own terms and with absolutely no regrets stunned the world of tennis, but the overwhelming reactions were of support and admiration for the 25-year-old Australian.
While the likes of Serena Williams and Rafa Nadal continue to chase Grand Slam titles, defying age and injuries, Barty’s declaration that she has achieved everything she set out to in the sport stands in sharp contrast.
She leaves tennis as world number one and a three-times major champion with titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon alongside her Australian Open triumph in January, just when the discussion had moved on to how many more Slams she could win.
“There was a perspective shift in me in the second phase of my career that my happiness wasn’t dependent on the results,” Barty said.
“Success for me is knowing I’ve given absolutely everything I can. I’m fulfilled, I’m happy. I know how much work it takes to bring the best out in yourself… I don’t have that in me anymore.”
Athletes rarely retire at 25 and in the case of the Williams sisters, Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, playing into their forties does not seem beyond the realms of possibility.
But Barty, who made no secret of her dislike for constantly being on tour, had no interest in punishing her body year after year and always prioritised her own mental and physical well-being over the incessant demands of her sport.
As tennis limped back to normality amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Barty chose to stay in Australia for nearly a year, her longest hiatus from the professional tour since her indefinite break in 2014.
She returned in January 2021, winning Wimbledon the same year before becoming the first Australian to triumph at Melbourne Park since Chris O’Neil in 1978 in what would be the last match of her career.
“For someone to retire at 25, it really speaks to the way our sport empowers women,” said Danielle Collins, who lost to Barty in the Australian Open final.
“I think this sport empowers us in a way financially that is really unique to other sports… I think the sport empowers us in ways that is so unique to other fields. (Retiring at 25) is something to really celebrate and really acknowledge.”
Thirty-seven women have won more Grand Slams than Barty while three have spent more consecutive weeks as the world’s top-ranked player.
But Martina Navratilova, who appears on both lists and has won more Grand Slams — singles and doubles — than anyone who has held a racket, said Barty would go down as one of the all-time greats.
“You are leaving the tennis and sports world quite speechless and full of praise at the same time,” Navratilova said. “We will miss you, your smile and your beautiful game. Be happy champ, the Hall of Fame is waiting!”
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond)