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Opinion

Why Ash Barty is the single most important athlete in Australian sport

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Roar Guru
28th January, 2022
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Ash Barty’s meteoritic rise to the top of the women’s game has seen her hold the number one world ranking for an amazing 102 weeks, which dates back to June 24, 2019.

The 25-year-old has already won the French Open and Wimbledon and is hoping to add third major success when she contests the 2022 Australian Open final against big-hitting American Danielle Collins.

Barty’s on-court success is matched only by her off-court demeanour, which reveals an individual who is both measured and focused to capitalise on her innate tennis ability.

The level of expectation and pressure on Barty during this year’s Australian Open seems to have only spurred her on to achieve something that has not been seen on these shores since 1978.

That year Chris O’Neil won the Australian Open and in doing so became the last Australian female to win at Melbourne Park.

The journey that has led Barty to this point though is somewhat unconventional as she walked away from tennis aged 18 when she recognised the need to reconnect with her family and reclaim other aspects of her life.

Ashleigh Barty of Australia hits a smash against Amanda Anisimova of the United States during day seven of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

(Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

In her time away, Barty also tried her hand at cricket where she played ten games for the Brisbane Heat, who have teams in both the men’s and women’s Big Bash League.

The ability of Barty to recognise the need to step back was only emphasised after her French Open title win in 2019 with Barty stating: “I don’t even know if I’d be sitting here talking to you if I was playing tennis [and I] didn’t step away.”

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Barty’s self-confessed need to grow as a person and mature before she returned to the professional tennis circuit has only elevated her game to a level that may have even surprised Barty herself.

Her special friendship with former Australian tennis great Evonne Goolagong Cawley has also played an important role in Barty’s climb to the number one spot.

Barty is a proud Ngarigo woman and she continues to use her public profile and platform to inspire young Indigenous people to take up the sport of tennis and leave the traditional realms of NRL and AFL.

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Barty and the Australian Tennis Foundation pledged $115,000 over three years to support Indigenous programs in Queensland back in 2020.

“This funding provides an opportunity, not just in tennis, but in education, and in experiences,” Barty said.

This month Barty also donated her 2021 Wimbledon outfit to the National Museum of Australia in a nod to Cawley and the connection they both share.

“I’m a proud Ngarigo woman, a very very proud Indigenous woman,” Barty said after her first-round win against Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko.

“I love my heritage. I love to celebrate my heritage. It’s what connects me to all of you here today. It’s what connects me to the land.

“I think it’s a beautiful way to express who I am… (and) to stay connected with so many people and First Nations people around Australia.”

Whatever the result in the final, Barty has shown herself to be possibly the single most important athlete in Australian sport right now.

In a time of pandemics and lockdowns, this is one party that deserves to be celebrated and enjoyed.

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