MIAMI, Fla. – In an announcement Wednesday in Australia that is equal parts shocking and somehow makes complete sense, world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty announced her retirement from tennis at age 25.
It’s effective immediately. She posted on her Instagram account, and did an interview with her good friend Casey Dellacqua as she discussed the reasons.
In a nutshell, Barty began thinking about it after achieving her No. 1 bucket list item: winning Wimbledon in 2021.
And then, after she became the first Australian in eons to break the jinx and take home the Daphne Akhurt Trophy as the Australian Open women’s singles champion, it became just about a fait accompli.
“Today is difficult and filled with emotion for me as I announce my retirement from tennis. I wasn’t sure how to share this news with you so I asked my good friend @caseydellacqua to help me. I am so thankful for everything this sport has given me and leave feeling proud and fulfilled. Thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way, I’ll always be grateful for the lifelong memories that we created together.”
In the interview, she said she was “so happy, and so ready”.
“I’ve had a lot of incredible moments in my career that have been pivotal moments. And Wimbledon last year changed a lot for me as a person and for me as an athlete when you work so hard, your whole life for one goal, and I’ve been able to share that with so many incredible people. But to be able to win Wimbledon, which was my dream, – the one true dream that I wanted in tennis – that really changed my perspective. I just had I just had that gut feeling after Wimbledon and had spoken to my team quite a lot about it.”
But Barty said she felt there was one more thing left to do.
And she did it.
Pandemic changed many things
It’s been clear since the pandemic changed everything that Barty was going to go her own way.
She wasn’t going to play because she had to play. She was going to play when she wanted to play.
There’s never been any secret that she loves being home, that she’s happiest among family and friends. And she recently got engaged to longtime boyfriend Garry Kissick.
And so Barty opted not to go back on the road when tennis resumed in Aug. 2020, after a five-month stoppage.
And when she left Australia after the 2021 Australian Open, knowing how complicated it was to return, she made the commitment with her coach and boyfriend that they would go on a six-month road trip and do what had to be done.
There’s no doubt that she, like many of the Aussie players, paid the price for that long period in exile both physically and mentally.
The difference, of course, is that Barty is in a position financially to just walk away.
In essence, Barty’s second “retirement”
She already did it once, as a teenager, when a glorious junior career took time to pan out on the pro tour. And her situation is a fascinating one. Clearly she loves tennis, but loves all the sacrifices required to pursue that career a lot less.
And unlike so many players, she didn’t have parents pushing her constantly, or an agent looking for any money-making deal to be found after she hit the top of the WTA charts. And she isn’t, as far as we know, the sole breadwinner for her entire family, as so many of the women out on the tour are.
So her decisions are her own. Which is a privileged position regardless of the amount of money she’s earned the last few years. And one that offers a lot more freedom.
I’m so proud to be an Aussie 💙 pic.twitter.com/ELbsqR4Vv8— Ash Barty (@ashbarty) January 29, 2022
“There was a perspective shift in me in the second phase of my career that my happiness wasn’t dependent on the results.
“Success for me is knowing that I’ve given absolutely everything, everything I can. I’m fulfilled, I’m happy, and I know how much work it takes to bring the best out of yourself,” she told Dellacqua. “I just don’t have that in me anymore. I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top level anymore.”
Knowing that – and knowing what that feels like and what needs to be done, she is walking away.
Barty was emotional during the interview she posted on social media. Talking about it and deciding it are very different things than saying it out loud, to the world. That makes it real in a completely different way.
Is there a shot at Barty’s third career?
Barty is only 25, so she has another decade to return to the sport if she chooses to.
And who knows; never say never.
But she also knows what it takes, physically and mentally, to be up where she belongs – at the top of the rankings chart.
No doubt she wants a family, and she wants to have it while she’s still young.
She doesn’t need any more money.
And in the end, she’s won Wimbledon. She’s won the Australian Open. It’s a “fan thing” to assume she has any major interest in winning a “career Grand Slam”, which is lacking only the US Open to complete.
If she were motivated by milestones, she would have hung around and played it this year.
It’s an announcement that will probably come as a shock to most players, who can only dream of what she’s already accomplished and remain out there fighting to get there.
But in a way, it also makes every kind of sense, given who Ashleigh Barty is, and has always been.
Choices for a quality life
With all of the women on the WTA Tour who are so clearly struggling with their mental wellness these days, it’s heartening to see someone with the means to do it prioritize that – prioritize their personal happiness – and make a big decision like this one.
But Barty has always marched to the beat of her own drummer.
And she’s leaving on top, having won the hearts of her country’s citizens by taking the Australian Open title.
And so, the very, very best athlete on the WTA Tour is gone, just as the tournament she has won the last two editions of – the Miami Open – is getting under way.
The No. 1 spot will be up for grabs.
It remains to be seen which players, among the current crop, have the ambition and courage to grab it.
It felt as though, when Serena Williams faded from the scene, that same opportunity existed. But it was an opening so many seemingly were not prepared to step through. Barty’s superior talent got her there.
Who will be next?