New star on the court
Australia’s latest tennis champion Ash Barty has added another record to her already incredible list of achievements: at the end of the 2021 season she has become just the fifth player to be world women’s number one for three years in a row.
To cap off her remarkable year, in November back at home from a gruelling year on the tour, she announced here engagement to long-time partner Garry Kissick, a pro golfer.
At season’s end 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.
She joins elite company in world tennis and joins 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 in November 2021. It is also available as an eBook from Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/3ybp9vxm and Apple: https://tinyurl.com/33aje264