FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 23, 2022 Australia's Ashleigh Barty celebrates winning her fourth round match against Amanda Anisimova of the U.S. REUTERS/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake
March 24, 2022
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Having thrilled in Ash Barty’s Grand Slam success and been charmed by her sportsmanship, Australia bids a bittersweet farewell to a down-to-earth champion who delivered plenty in a career that promised so much more.
The player herself has no regrets, saying she has nothing left to prove and nothing left to give.
Barty had wiped away tears in a video interview with friend Casey Dellacqua on Wednesday when she broke the news of her retirement to the world on social media.
But speaking to reporters in Brisbane on Thursday she was dry eyed and frank, focused firmly on the future and barely looking back.
As the woman who ended her country’s 44-year wait for a home champion at the Australian Open, Barty’s final media conference as world number one might have been expected to be an event, complete with fawning officials and glowing speeches.
Instead it was remarkably low key, standing in front of reporters outside a Brisbane hotel with her coach Craig Tyzzer.
Hair pinned back with trademark discipline, she drew a line under a career much as she played it — a few smiles, a bit of banter, some wonder at her good fortune and plenty of gratitude for fans’ support.
“I think the Australian public allowed me to be myself,” said Barty.
“They allowed me to make mistakes, they allowed me to be imperfect.”
It seemed an odd comment coming from an unimpeachable sportswoman, who never threw a tantrum let alone a racquet, won with class and lost with grace, and had kind words for all opponents.
But she may have been referring to her unique tennis journey and the challenge to stay motivated despite her talents, the big winners’ cheques and trappings of celebrity.
A self-described “home-body” with little affection for the touring life, Barty spent 121 weeks as world number one but comfortably longer than that away from the court.
Few in Australia could begrudge her the time off to recharge the batteries at home in southern Queensland with family and friends.
‘NEVER SAY NEVER’
Walking away from the Tour as a teenager in late-2014 after suffering homesickness and depression, Barty only added to her mystique when she transformed herself into a professional cricketer in Brisbane.
A big hitter with the bat, her cricket coach was convinced she would have played internationals had tennis not lured her back.
By then, Australian tennis fans were more than ready for a hero, having had their faith in the progression of Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios repeatedly crushed by their lack of commitment to the sport.
Barty offered a breath of fresh air as she stormed up the rankings, savouring the chance to “crack a couple of beers” with her team after each career milestone.
She fell one Grand Slam short of the full set, having never surpassed the fourth round at the U.S. Open. But her place is assured in her country’s pantheon of sporting greats, and as an enduring inspiration for Indigenous Australians.
She became only the second Aboriginal Australian to win a Grand Slam title, following in the footsteps of the great Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
Her Wimbledon triumph came 50 years after Goolagong’s first, while wearing a dress inspired by the outfit her mentor wore at the championships.
Australian media have speculated as to what lies ahead, whether her competitive instinct will mean a return to professional cricket or even a shot at becoming a pro golfer.
The public will hope for another return to tennis in the long run, and Barty, ever the crowd-pleaser, left that door ajar.
“You never say never,” she said.
“But it’s a long way off at this stage.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)