LONDON – Much of Wimbledon is synonymous with tradition. There are the usual sounds of popping champagne corks, dress codes, sunburned patrons, strawberries and cream, and excessive amounts of Pimm’s No. 1 being consumed.
Then there are other traditions: the reigning men’s champion opens the game on center court on Monday, while the reigning women’s defending champion does the same on Tuesday.
Last year’s women’s champion Ashleigh Barty will not play on Tuesday.
Instead of soaking up the adulation of Center Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, she will golf in New Jersey alongside Michael Phelps, Brian Lara and Harry Kane. It was in March that Ash Barty, then 25, made the decision to retire from tennis as she entered her 114th straight week as world No.
So, instead of Barty, it will be Iga Swiatek who will open the game on Tuesday on center court. Although she still loves the sport, Barty is unlikely to attend the tournament this year – sources say – as she continues to explore and enjoy her life after tennis.
THERE WAS ONLY 50 days between Barty’s victory at the Australian Open and the announcement of his retirement, but the decision had been brewing for a while. She had first spoken seriously with close confidants of her retirement after winning the 2019 French Open, but there was still that lifelong dream of triumphing at Wimbledon that kept her going.
After achieving that goal in July 2021, those close to him knew his interest in the sport had waned. Coach Craig Tyzzer said he knew he was fighting a losing battle keeping the star motivated while they were in Tokyo for the Olympics. There she won the doubles, but crashed out in the first round of the singles against then-world No. 48 Sara Sorribes Tormo, with Tyzzer saying in her exit press conference that it was “a tough job to maintain”. [Barty] involved…there wasn’t much left in her, [the] the motivation was not there.”
But she rose to her feet for one last chance to win the Australian Open in front of her home support and family in January 2022. The Melbourne crowd had been waiting 44 years for a women’s singles champion and on January 29 she ended that drought after an incredible tournament where she didn’t drop a single set and was only broken once on serve.
As she stood at Rod Laver Arena after beating Danielle Collins 6-3, 7-6(2), in the final, she knew inside herself that nothing would ever match that sentiment – it was her “moment of loop”, as she put it.
While those closest knew it was probably the end, publicly she still took aim at the events. She said in March that she wanted to play in the Billie Jean King Cup in April, although she pulled out of Indian Wells and Miami to “build her body”, having failed to recover from the Open d ‘Australia.
And then on March 22 came the six-minute interview on her Instagram channel with her longtime friend and former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua, where she announced her retirement. Barty said it was a good time to “go after other dreams”, with the double triumph at Wimbledon and Melbourne cementing that desire to try something new.
“I know how much work it takes to bring out the best in yourself and I’ve told my team many times, it’s just that I don’t have that in me anymore,” Barty said. “I no longer have the physical drive, the emotional desire and whatever it takes to challenge myself at the highest level. I just know that I’m exhausted – I just know physically that I have nothing left to do. give. And for me, that’s success. I gave absolutely everything I could for this beautiful sport of tennis.”
In the days following her announcement, she gave a 20-minute press conference in Brisbane and was asked about her plans. She replied, “You have to wait and see… I’m not giving you everything just yet. … It’s fine. … You can be patient. … Patience is a virtue.”
She said she was an “open book” with no secrets – but revealed few plans at the press conference – but often mentioned she looked forward to the next chapter as “Ash Barty the person, not Ash Barty the athlete.”
THE WTA TOUR is brutal – a grueling 44-week experience where you barely set foot in the house. Although she said at her exit press conference that she had never been “a prisoner” to the sport, she had been ruled by the schedule for so long.
In 2011, at age 15, she won the Wimbledon junior championship. Just three years later, she walked away from the sport due to burnout and played professional cricket for two years. Tennis set her back, but after her big success, she had had enough.
Tucked away in the middle of her exit interview were glimpses of what she missed out on being the best tennis player in the world. She missed her family, she wanted to see her nieces grow up, and she wanted to be with her dogs. She has a fiancé – professional golfer Garry Kissick with the two engaged last November – and they have built a house next to Brookwater Golf Course just outside Brisbane.
So Barty’s future would be on her terms — away from the public eye, only letting the world in when she wanted to. And she had plans.
At the end of February, Barty traveled to Uluru as Tennis Australia’s First Nations Ambassador. She won her Australian Open trophy there – connecting to her roots and looking to use her influence to grow the sport.
Barty is proud of her Australian Aboriginal ancestry.
“I love my heritage, I love celebrating my heritage.”
“I love my heritage, I love celebrating my heritage. It’s what connects me to all of you here today. It’s what connects me to the land,” she said after winning early in Melbourne.
Giving young Aboriginal people more opportunities to get involved in sport is at the heart of his projects. “I’ve always wanted time to contribute in other ways – I’m willing to really give back, that’s what lights me up inside,” she said during her press conference at retirement.
The impact of this trip in February has already been felt in the Northern Territories. “There has been a lot of success in club tennis since his visit,” Beth Caird, Tennis NT’s Inclusion and Diversity Manager, told news.com.au. “People were really inspired by the arrival of a World No. 1 in the NT right after an Australian Open win. She was seen as an Indigenous leader.
Barty will also publish a series of six children’s books in July, called “Young Ash”, which she hopes will inspire “new readers”. The books are partly inspired by Barty’s 5-year-old niece, Lucy.
It all comes back to what Barty said at his retirement press conference, about the importance of being present with loved ones and feeling part of your country again. So it’s unlikely we’ll see her embark on another big tour in another sport.
Since retiring, some have wondered if she would return to cricket, given the success of her first foray. Meg Lanning, the Australian women’s captain, said on April 6: “If she wants to come and play cricket again [we] would certainly be interested in talking to him. She was pretty good at [it] the last time she played.
Golf remains one of his great passions. On April 2, Barty won another trophy at the women’s event at Brookwater Golf and Country Club. First place earned him $20 – his career tennis earnings amounted to $23.8 million. At the time, Barty said she had “a good laugh” at speculation that she was heading into golf professionally. That’s despite getting the final stamp of approval in 2019 when Tiger Woods saw her perform at a pro-am and said, “She’s got a great swing, are you kidding me? ?”
WHEN THE SECOND round begins at Wimbledon, Barty will be at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey to play in the ICONS golf series event. She will be part of the world team led by Ernie Els and will play alongside Brian Lara of cricket, Canelo Alvarez of boxing and Harry Kane and Pep Guardiola of football, among others, against the American team skippered by Fred Couples and starring Michael Phelps, Michael Strahan and Ben Roethlisberger. .
“I hope that through my participation in the series, we can encourage more women and girls to participate in golf around the world,” said Barty. She will be in St. Andrews for the Open in July as a guest of the R&A. But expect these sightings to be fleeting for now, rather than becoming the norm.
As for the sign of where she’s been happiest, look what she said on April 10. As she spoke about the launch of her new books, she was asked if she regrets retiring. “I’m so happy,” Barty said. “I’ve spent so much time with my beautiful family and my nieces and nephew and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the past few weeks.”
Her short and long-term plans include boosting her charitable focus and ways she can contribute to youth sport in Australia, sources have told ESPN.
In November, she will publish a memoir tentatively titled: “My Dream Team: A Memoir of Tennis and Teamwork”. This will shed more light on the decision to retire and what lies ahead. There’s still that competitive spirit in Barty, but as she wrote in a recent column, while the tennis fire will always burn, don’t expect to see her back on center court anytime soon. She’s too busy enjoying being “just” Ash Barty.
“Is it forever? The door to my career is closed for now, and firmly. … But I hold the key to the padlock and who knows what the future holds,” Barty wrote in his CodeSports column.
She continued: “But before anyone rushes out to buy tickets for the 2023 Australian Open in the hope that I will return to defend my title, hold your horses. I’m sure my future lies elsewhere.”