Women’s world No. 1 tennis player Ashleigh Barty of Australia had the tennis world and her legion of fans in a state of shock on Wednesday (IST) after the winner of three Grand Slams announced her retirement one month shy of her 26th birthday.
Barty won the French Open in 2019, the Wimbledon in 2021 and Australian Open earlier this year, and her current reign of 114 consecutive weeks at No.1 is the fourth-longest streak in the history of the WTA Tour, behind Germany’s Steffi Graf (186 weeks), American stalwart Serena Williams (186) and Czechoslovakian-American great Martina Navratilova (156). Barty’s 121 total weeks as the top ranked player are No.7 in the all-time list.
“It’s the first time I’ve actually said it out loud and, yeah, it’s hard to say,” an emotional Barty told former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua in an interview, according to wtatennis.com. “But I’m so happy, and I’m so ready.
A professional player quitting so early is rare but Barty said that she no longer has the “physical drive” to continue playing the sport.
“I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level any more. I am spent.”
The Australian leaves with a stellar set of credentials, including three major singles titles on three different surfaces. In all, she collected 15 titles in singles and 12 in doubles — more than any other active player in that span, according to WTA.
Across all levels of play, Barty produced a 305-102 record in singles and a 200-64 record in doubles, earning a career prize money of USD23,829,071.
“I know how much work it takes to bring the best out of yourself,” Barty said. “I’ve said it to my team multiple times — ‘I just don’t have that in me anymore.’ Physically, I have nothing more to give. I’ve given absolutely everything I have to this beautiful sport of tennis, and I’m really happy with that. For me, that is my success.”
WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon said, “With her accomplishments at the Grand Slams, WTA Finals and reaching the pinnacle ranking of No.1 in the world, she has clearly established herself as one the great champions of the WTA.
“We wish Ash only the very best and know that she will continue to be a tremendous ambassador for the sport of tennis as she embarks on this new chapter of her life. We will miss her.”
Barty has always been unconventional with regard to her career. She and Dellacqua enjoyed huge success playing doubles, reaching the finals of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in 2013. But one year later, ranked outside top-200 in singles and No.40 in doubles, Barty — then 18 — decided to take a break.
“It was too much too quickly for me, as I’ve been travelling from quite a young age,” she said at the time. “I wanted to experience life as a normal teenaged girl and have some normal experiences.”
Barty’s 21-month break from tennis included a stint playing cricket with the Brisbane Heat of the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL). She returned in May 2016, playing a USD50,000 ITF event in Eastbourne (England) — winning three qualifying matches and three more in the main draw. One year later, she was ranked No. 88 and by the end of 2017 Barty was a top-20 player.
“I know I’ve done this before,” Barty said in the interview, “but in a very different feeling. I’m so grateful to everything that tennis has given me. It’s given me all of my dreams, plus more, but I know that the time is right now for me to step away and chase other dreams and to, yeah, put the racquets down.”
A semifinal loss to Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in Doha in February was the last match she played in 2020. She stayed home in Australia due to the pandemic. After six months on the Tour in 2021 and after winning five titles — including the Wimbledon — Barty ended her season abruptly after a loss to American Shelby Rogers at the US Open.
Her No. 1 ranking qualified her for the WTA Finals, but Barty withdrew, citing Covid-19 travel and quarantine restrictions.
“Wimbledon last year changed a lot for me as a person and for me as an athlete,” Barty said. “When you work so hard your whole life for one goal. To be able to win Wimbledon, which was my dream, the one true dream that I wanted in tennis, that really changed my perspective.
“I just had that gut feeling after Wimbledon, and had spoken to my team quite a lot about it. There was just a little part of me that wasn’t quite satisfied, wasn’t quite fulfilled. There was a perspective shift in me in the second phase of my career, that my happiness wasn’t dependent on the results.”
Barty didn’t lose a match in her truncated 2022 season, going 11-0 and winning 25 of her final 26 matches. She opened with title run at the Adelaide International, then finished her career by winning the Australian Open. She became the first Australian to win the title at her home Grand Slam event in 44 years.
“The challenge of the Australian Open, and I think that for me, feels like the most perfect way — my perfect way — to celebrate what an amazing journey my tennis career has been,” Barty said. “As a person, this is what I want. I want to chase after some other dreams that I’ve always wanted to do.”
Barty becomes the second reigning world No.1 ranked woman to retire while on top, following Belgian Justine Henin, who retired on in May of 2008, after 61 consecutive weeks at No.1. Henin returned to play two years later.
Another Belgian, Kim Clijsters, retired for the first time in 2007 at the age of 23 and ranked No.4. She returned two years later, won back-to-back US Open titles, then retired a second time from 2012/20. Clijsters is currently an active player. Eleven-time Grand Slam champion Bjorn Borg retired at the age of 26 in 1983, then came back to play from 1991/93.
“I know that people may not understand it,” Barty said. “I’m OK with that. Because I know that for me Ash Barty the person has so many dreams that she wants to chase after that don’t necessarily involve travelling the world, being away from my family from my home, which is where I’ve always wanted to be. It’s where I’ve grown up.”
In November 2021, Barty and Australian professional golfer Garry Kissick announced their engagement.
There were tears in her eyes as Barty said her goodbye to Dellacqua during the interview.
“Having known you for so long, one thing that I know is that you always make decisions that are right for you,” Dellacqua said.
“And they’ve always worked out and you’ve done it your way. I think that’s really brave, that’s really credible. Enjoy retirement.”
Barty said, “It’s scary. I’ll never, ever, ever stop loving tennis. It will always be a massive part of my life but now I think it’s important I get to enjoy the next phase of my life as Ash Barty the person, not Ash Barty the athlete.”