World No1 and reigning Wimbledon champion Ash Barty has left the tennis world stunned by announcing her shock retirement at the age of just 25.
The Australian superstar, who has been top of the rankings continuously since June 2019, has revealed her decision in an emotionally charged personal Instagram video interview with her close friend, compatriot and former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua.
And in it she revealed that fulfilling childhood dreams by winning Wimbledon last year and then the Australian Open early in 2022 completely changed her perspective about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
Barty did take a break earlier in her career back in 2014, playing cricket among other things in the hiatus and it was Dellacqua that persuaded her to return after two years for an incredible rise up the rankings and run of success. But she was clear this time it was final.
Barty said: “There is no right way or wrong way to do this…it’s just my way. This is perfect for me to share it with you and talk to you [Dellacqua] about it and share it with my team and loved ones that I will be retiring from tennis.
“It is the first time I have actually said it out loud and it is hard to say. I am so happy and so ready and I just know at the moment in my heart for me as a person this is right. I have done this before…but in very different feeling.
“I am so grateful for everything that tennis has given me, it has given me all of my dreams plus more, but I know the time is right now for me to step away and chase other dreams and put the rackets down.
“It is something I have been thinking about for a long time. There have been a lot of moments in my career that have been pivotal. Wimbledon last year changed a lot for me as a person and an athlete, when you work so hard your whole life for one goal.
“To win Wimbledon, my one true dream in tennis, that changed my perspective. I had a gut feeling after that and spoke to my team, but there was a small part of me that wasn’t quite satisfied and fulfilled. Then came the challenge of the Australian Open and that just feels like my perfect way to celebrate what an amazing journey my tennis career has been.
“As a person this is what I want, I want to chase after some other dreams that I have always wanted to do, I have always had that healthy balance but I am really excited. There was a perspective shift in this second phase of my career that my happiness wasn’t dependent on the results.
“Success for me is knowing that I have given absolutely everything I can, I am fulfilled, and happy, and I know how much work it takes t bring the best out of yourself. I have said to my team multiple times, I don’t have that in me anymore.
“The physical drive, the emotional want, everything it takes to challenge yourself at the top level…I am spent, physically I have nothing more to give. That for me is success, I have given everything to this beautiful sport of tennis.
“I know that people may not understand it and that’s okay, I am okay with that. I know Ash Barty the person has so many dreams she wants to chase after that don’t necessarily involve travelling the world, being away from my family, and my home where I have always wanted to be and grew up.
“I will never stop loving tennis, it will always be an important part of my life but now it is important I get to enjoy the next part of my life as Ash Barty the person, not Ash Barty the athlete.”
The decision by a player not only the best in the business but also hugely popular with tour rivals and fans alike triggered an outpouring of career tributes and good wishes.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said: “Ash, I have no words... actually you are showing your true class leaving tennis in this beautiful way. I am so happy I could share the court with you.. tennis will never be the same without you! I admire you as a player and a person.. wishing you only the best!”
And two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep said: “Ash, what can I say, you know I have tears right? My friend, I will miss you on tour. You were different, and special, and we shared some amazing moments. What's next for you? Grand Slam champion in golf?! Be happy and enjoy your life to the max x.”
Three-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray added simply: “Happy for Ash Barty, gutted for tennis.”
Barty was the second Australian woman player to hold the No1 ranking after fellow indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley, a great friend with whom she has campaigned tirelessly to promote greater participation from the indigenous community in tennis.
Though the decision from Barty, engaged to trainee golf pro Garry Kissick, clearly seems to be the right thing for her personally, it is unquestionably a huge blow for tennis to see the best woman player and such a brilliant ambassador for the sport leave the stage for good at such a young age.
It comes after Naomi Osaka, 24, Barty’s main rival in recent years, took two breaks from the sport in the last year, citing mental health issues and later similarly the fact that “winning doesn’t make me happy any more”. That saw the four-time Grand Slam winner and former world No1 fall to No85 in the rankings.