Bowing out on top
of the World
At just 25 years of age and after just on 120 weeks of being the World No. 1 women’s tennis player, Australian Ash Barty announced her retirement on 23 March 2021.
That was followed later in the year by announcing her engagement then in July 2022, she revealed her and longtime partner Garry Kissick had married in a quiet family ceremony in her home state of Queensland.
The couple met at Queensland’s Brookwater Golf Club in 2016.
Since her retirement she had been out and about promoting her series of children’s’ books, the Little Ash series, encouraging young tennis players and watch major golf. She ruled out a switch to a golfing career.
She said retiring from tennis at the top of her game hadn’t been an easy decision.
“Today is difficult and filled with emotion for me as I announce my retirement from tennis,” she posted on Instagram.
“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.”
Ash was removed from the WTA rankings list after the Miami tournament in March after 117 consecutive weeks as World No 1. She hailed her successor at No 1 Iga Swiatek, saying there was no-one better to take over the top spot in women’s tennis than her 20-year-old Polish friend.
Ash will long be remembered for her achievements on the world’s tennis courts among the elite players:
- 2022 Australian Open Champion
- 2021 Wimbledon Champion
- 2019 French Open Champion
Becoming, Australia’s newest tennis champion, Ash added another record to her already incredible list of achievements when at the end of the 2021 season she became just the fifth player to be world women’s number one for three years in a row.
Ash has been women’s singles world No.1 ranking since she took over from Naomi Osaka on September 9, 2019.
She has been No 1 for a total of 120 weeks, 113 weeks consecutively as of March 21, 2022, and can look forward to more weeks there as her closest challengers remain well behind even after the Indian Wells tournament in March.
Then to get 2022 started she won the prize she had much sought – her home championship, the Australian Open. Unfortunately she didn’t recover as quickly as expected and had to withdraw from the Indian Wells tournament in the US in March. Then followed the shock announcement of her retirement.
But in an interview afterwards she gave a strong indication that she would not be lost to sport altogether, switching to something else likely to be her next move. She already had shown prowess in other sports, including cricket and golf.
She was bowing out tennis with three Grand Slams to her name.
It all started in 2019 when she won the French Open championship. In 2021, she won the Wimbledon championship and titles in Melbourne, Miami, Stuttgart and Cincinnati.
At year’s end in 2021 Ash joined Serena Williams, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert as the only women to achieve three consecutive years at No. 1.
As the year-end WTA finals series wrapped up in Mexico (missing the Australian) Ash posted her 95th week in a row atop the WTA ratings and her 102nd week as No 1 overall.
In December, she was named the Women’s Tennis Association’s Player of the Year, for the second time in her career. Then came the International Tennis Federation who named her as champion player of the year for 2021, going back-to-back on her 2019 honour (there was no award in 2020).
That wasn’t the end of it. She was also awarded her fourth Newcombe Medal for Australian tennis player of the year, an award she shared with wheelchair ace Dylan Alcott.
2022 – a flying start
In January 2022, Ash Barty ended a 44 year drought for Australian women in their own national championship; her victory over American Danielle Collins at Melbourne Park was the first by an Australian since Chris O’Neil’s victory over American Betsy Nagelsen in 1978.
She won all her seven matches in straight sets and was on court for a total of seven hours and 33 minutes over the Melbourne fortnight.
When it was all over she increased her lead in WTA world ranking points to 2,600 as one challenger after another fell by the wayside before they could even take Ash on head-to-head.
Ash began the year earlier in January in Adelaide where she claimed two WTA titles in her first tournament for the year – The Adelaide International.
She swept aside French Open champion Iga Swiatek in the semi-final and did the same to Elena Ryabakina (Kazakastan) in the women’s singles final on January 9.
Just a few hours later, she joined fellow Australian and her Olympic doubles partner Storm Sanders to take the women’s doubles final, defeating Andreja Klepac (Serbia) and Darija Jurak (Croatia) 6-1, 6-4).
Ash defeated Rybakina 6-3, 6-2 to win the title that was also hers in 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic threw the world tennis calendar into chaos.
The 2022 victory took the world number one’s record against top-20 rivals to 17-1 since the beginning of 2021.
As well as Swiatek, Ash defeated Coco Gauff and Sophie Kenin (her conqueror in Melbourne in 2021) in preliminary rounds.
The Adelaide titles meant Ash was in good form as she set herself for a tilt at a title she would dearly love to have, the Australian Open.
THE AUSSIE ICONS
Ash certainly has joined elite company in world tennis, alongside other Australians who made their mark on the world’s courts.
Margaret Court (nee Smith) and Evonne Goolagong Cawley have long been icons of Australian women’s tennis.
Margaret Court won her first significant tennis title in 1960. She went on to win 24 Grand Slam women’s singles titles in her career, 19 Grand Slam doubles titles, and 21 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. Some would argue that women’s tennis back then wasn’t as competitive as it is now.
But Margaret Court’s record speaks for itself. She has won more Grand Slam titles than any other player in history and is considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
She retired in 1977 and later became a minister of the church, her views on some aspects of lifestyle dividing the community, even tennis players. Regardless, her tennis record is what it is.
By the time Margaret Court retired, Evonne Goolagong had established herself as an outstanding player on the women’s tennis circuit, with four Australian Open championships – in 1974, 75, 76 and 77. She collected two Wimbledon championships.
At the age of 19, she won the French Open singles and the Australian Open doubles championships (the latter with Margaret Court). She won the women’s’ singles tournament at Wimbledon in 1971. In 1980, she became the first mother to win Wimbledon in 66 years. Goolagong went on to win 14 Grand Slam tournament titles: seven in singles (four at the Australian Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the French Open), six in women’s doubles, and one in mixed doubles. She represented Australia in three Fed Cup competitions, winning the title in 1971, 1973 and 1974, and was Fed Cup captain for three consecutive years.
She retired from the professional tennis tour as a player in 1983.
There was a dearth of victories in tennis singles Slams for Australians in the decades that followed.
It was not until 2019 that another Australian name was etched on a women’s singles Slam trophy when young Queenslander Ashleigh Barty, by then a recognised champion in the making, claimed the French Open championship.
She was revealed to the world as an unassuming young woman with one heck of a tennis game. She first came to notice on the big stages in 2011 when she won the Junior Girls Wimbledon championship after collecting junior titles in Thailand, Malaysia and Belgium. She had only turned professional just a year earlier, after her 14th birthday.
She could be anything, the pundits said. By 2012 Ash was ranked among the top 200 female players in the world.
Injury in 2014 curtailed her rise somewhat and in 2015 the rigour of the women’s tennis tour was taking its toll. Very much a family-oriented person, being away from home for so long was a problem. She decided to take a break.
But she didn’t abandon sport altogether and turned up in the Queensland women’s cricket team, playing for the Brisbane Heat in the Australian Women’s Big Bash team. But cricket at the top level proved to be a one-year wonder for Ash and in 2016 she reappeared on the world’s tennis courts.
Just a year later she claimed her first Women’s Tennis Association title, in Malaysia.
The Ashleigh Barty story from then on becomes one of fulfilled dreams and outstanding success. She took the French Open title in 2019 on her way to becoming world No 1 in women’s tennis.
Who’s to say what would have followed had the world-wide Covid pandemic not intervened.
Nevertheless, Ash retained her No 1. ranking through the lost year before bouncing back to win the most prestigious title of them all in 2021, the Wimbledon championship.
Tennis, and many other sports at all levels, took a big hit from the pandemic. Schedules were hurriedly revised, some tournaments were cancelled. But still Ash was Number One.
By the end of the 2021 season she had been world number one for more than 100 weeks. Securing the spot at the top of the ladder at season’s-end for the third year in a row, she emulated the feats of women’s tennis legends Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Serena Williams.
Ash had won titles on all playing surfaces, collected two Grand Slam titles and amassed more than $US 21 million in career prizemoney. Her career win/loss record at the end of her 2021 season was 294/102. Her career record included 13 singles titles, five in 2021.
Her 2021 earnings were almost $US 4 million and she had a win loss record of 42/8. In her bag also was a bronze medal from the Tokyo Olympics that had been postponed from 2020.
The year done, Ash retreated home to Australia in October 2021, quarantine requirements meaning travelling to further overseas tournaments would impact on her preparations for 2022. On her agenda for that year would be her home championship, the Australian Open, where she was yet to reach a final.
The Ashleigh Barty story is captured in a tribute book by Ron Reed and Chris Mcleod, Barty. Much more than Tennis, published by Wilkinson Publishing. It is also available as an eBook from Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/3ybp9vxm and Apple: https://tinyurl.com/33aje264
RIP: Sadly, Ron Reed passed away suddenly in June 2022. Few journalists/authors could boast the wide variety of sporting experiences of Ron Reed. Potentially a high level cricketer and footballer, he chose to write about sport from the spectator’s side of the fence. He did that with great skill and was highly regarded in all sports and sportspeople that he wrote about. Ron could turn his hand to write about pretty much any sport, including the Olympic Games. I had the great pleasure of working with him in newspapers for many years and collaborating with him recently on books about the Australian champions Ash Barty and Pat Cummins. His work will be sorely missed by sports enthusiasts. CHRIS McLEOD