How can you retire when you’re at the top of your game?
It’s a question that Ash Barty, at age 25 will have many asking today after the shock news of her retirement from tennis.
It was the exact same question asked of the great golfer Bobby Jones when he retired at 28 after winning four major tournaments in a year.
“Championship golf is something like a cage. First you are expected to get into it and then you are expected to stay there. But of course, nobody can stay there,” he said at the time.
That quote and Jones’ decision to retire echoes Barty and the tennis world.
She won three grand slams, claimed the World No. 1 mantle and she climbed Everest by winning the Australian Open. She’s done everything she dreamed of doing and more. Why not go out on top?
You only have to look at Roger Federer and how the tennis world seems obsessed with comparing him to Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal and who is the greatest.
I’m not suggesting it was wrong of Federer to play on but it all comes back to the Bobby Jones quote that nobody can stay at the top no matter how good you are.
By going out now, Barty leaves that nagging question of ‘just how many titles could she have won?’
It’s a great way for an athlete to bow out. She’s ensured she remains a legend of the game by Wednesday’s announcement but she’s done so on her terms.
She’s always done it that way.
Her initial decision back in 2014 to take a break from tennis to see if she could make it as a cricketer was a huge move on her behalf.
She just felt like she wanted a change and she gave it a red hot crack.
While cricket didn’t quite work out on the surface, it did on a spiritual level. Her time away from the game re-energised her and she was a completely different player on her return.
Her mental toughness was the biggest improvement.
She went from losing close games to having amazing comebacks and crushing opponents who would normally stay in the fight from Ash making too many unforced errors.
“It’s nice to know that straight off the bat I can come in and compete with the best in the world,” she said in 2016.
It was a warning of what was to come.
With hours of work with her new coach Craig Tyzzer, Barty developed her all-court game.
She always had a decent slice backhand but Tyzzer helped add some punch. All of a sudden she could go from defence to attack with blistering groundstrokes and with some added muscle her serve became unstoppable.
She went from outside the top 200 for singles to the top 20 in the space of a year and the rest as they say is history.
What I’ve loved most about Ash Barty is how she hasn’t changed despite her success.
She’s the same person as she was when she held her first trophy in that iconic photo as a junior.
She took time off during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and she was just as excited to watch her beloved Richmond in the finals with a beer in hand as she was winning a grand slam.
I can’t recall her ever getting angry in a press conference despite some inane questions and journalists trying to catch her out with a gotcha moment.
Conversely no player has ever said a bad word about Barty.
In a tennis world full of egos and prima donnas she was just Ash. Loveable Ash. You couldn’t help but love her.
Australians were happy to forgo sleep to watch her epic matches at Wimbledon, her French Open triumph and of course the ratings bonanza that was her crowning glory at this year’s Australian Open.
The fact that she’s willing to walk away from potentially millions of dollars in the next few years by leaving the Tour just shows you where her priorities are.
Whatever she chooses to do in the coming months and years, she’ll do so with a smile and she’ll do it without fuss. She’s the most humble champion Australia’s ever produced and we should all be grateful to have watched history before our eyes.