Tennis-‘I am spent’: World number one Barty goes out on top

FILE PHOTO: Australian Open
FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Australian Open - Women's Singles Final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 29, 2022 Australia's Ashleigh Barty poses as she celebrates winning the final against Danielle Collins of the U.S. with the trophy REUTERS/Loren Elliott

March 23, 2022

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Ash Barty sent shockwaves around the tennis world on Wednesday when she abruptly announced her retirement at the peak of her game and just two months after claiming a third Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

Citing the fulfilment of her tennis goals and fatigue with life on the Tour, the 25-year-old world number one walks away with 15 titles to her name, the last coming at Melbourne Park where she ended Australia’s 44-year wait for a home champion.

“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 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 any more. 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.

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

Barty climbed to the top of the world rankings shortly after claiming her maiden major at the French Open in 2019. Last year she triumphed at Wimbledon and appeared well set for more Grand Slam success to take her place among the game’s greats.

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

She said realising her “one true dream” by winning Wimbledon had changed her perspective.

“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 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 COVID-19 halted tennis in 2020, she took nearly a year off to stay home with family rather than rejoin the circuit when it resumed.

As players battled at the delayed 2020 French Open, Barty was spotted in the crowd at an Australian Rules football match in Brisbane, cheering her beloved Richmond Tigers with a cup of beer in her hand.

Wearing a simple blue sports top and with her hair pulled back in her trademark bun, Barty wiped away tears during the interview with Dellacqua.

“I know I’ve done this before, but in 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 with almost $24 million in career prize money and as a national hero by beating American Danielle Collins in the Australian Open in the final in January.

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.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked Barty for “inspiring a generation of young people and particularly a generation of young Indigenous people” in Australia.

“You are all class, your commitment to excellence in your chosen field in tennis … I’m sure anything you turn your hand to you are going to be a great success,” he added.

Barty’s announcement triggered tributes from players and officials.

“Happy for @ashbarty, gutted for tennis,” said Briton Andy Murray, former men’s world number one. “What a player.”

Twice Grand Slam champion and former world number one Simona Halep said Barty’s announcement had left her with tears in her eyes.

“Ash, what can I say, you know I have tears right? My friend, I will miss you on tour,” Halep said on Twitter. “You were different, and special, and we shared some amazing moments. What’s next for you? Grand Slam champion in golf?!”

WTA boss Steve Simon said Barty led by example through her professionalism and sportsmanship in every match, while Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley described Barty as “an incredible role model”, both on and off the court.

Her retirement echoes Justine Henin’s decision to quit in 2008 as a 25-year-old world number one with seven Grand Slam titles. Henin came out of retirement in 2010, inspired by fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters’ comeback.

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

Women’s tennis will have a new world number one in Poland’s Iga Swiatek.

Australia will hope Barty’s second retirement ends up like her first, broken by another comeback and more Grand Slam silverware.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney and Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Pritha Sarkar)