Roundtable: Thoughts on Ash Barty’s Retirement

Aoun Jafarey

Finding out that Ash Barty is just going to retire as the world number one is about the polar opposite of finding out that Rafa ended a hot winning streak with a physical compromise, you could say it was unexpected to say the least. I’ve mostly watched her at the majors but when you’re watching a complete player you don’t have to watch too many matches. Everything about Barty displayed either maturity or completeness. Her persona on court and her backhand slice, those are the two things I’ll always remember about her. Whatever it is that Barty decides to pursue, I wish her well, for the grandest tennis courts in the world will miss her more than she might miss them. 

Claire Stanley

On a sunny Saturday last July I was walking through Granary Square in London, having just met a friend for lunch. I thought if I hurried, I *might* be able to make it back to my hotel in time to see the last few games of the Wimbledon ladies singles final between Ash Barty and Karolina Pliskova. Approaching the bridge to Regent’s Canal I could hear cheering and gasps from a crowd I couldn’t see – but I could see what they were watching. A big screen was projecting the match across Granary Square and it had just gone to a second set tiebreak. I stood, transfixed. When it became clear this match was going all the way, I found myself somewhere to sit and drank it all in.

When Ash Barty held the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft I knew everyone watching was witnessing something special. Barty was, undeniably, the greatest female tennis player on the planet. I predicted many more major titles – well into double figures and a legacy that Australia would be proud of. When Ash went on to win the Australian Open this year in front of an ecstatic home crowd I was more certain than ever that she would go down in history as one of the greatest players ever – in fact I was convinced that this year she would win the calendar slam too. 

Barty lifts the trophy. Screenshot: Australian Open

How wrong I was. Waking up to the news that Barty – at the age of 25, triple slam winner, with a cool $23 million in the bank – has decided to retire from tennis, effective immediately completely blindsided me. I never saw it coming – I don’t think anyone did. Had she said she was going to take a few months off and come back for the US Open, I wouldn’t have been in the least bit surprised – she’s done that before, after all. Even if she had said she was planning to take the rest of the year off… but I never expected retirement. And yet her reasons behind her decision make so much sense: she’s achieved what she set out to do – she won Wimbledon, she won the Australian Open, she became the best female tennis player in the world – and now she’s ready to set some new goals and take on some new challenges. Knowing Barty and her insane level of sporting talent, it wouldn’t shock me to see her representing Australian cricket at the highest level, or deciding that’s she’s going to try her hand at Aussie Rules football. I’m still not fully convinced this is the end for her though – and it wouldn’t surprise me if she reappeared on the tour in three or four years time and casually won another slam before bowing out for good.

Whatever she does next, I have absolutely no doubt she’ll do it with her entire being and become the best of the best. I’ll miss her game immensely, I’ll miss her post-match interviews where she’s full of nothing but praise for her opponents and humility at what she’s achieved. Tennis’s loss is whatever she chooses to do next’s gain. In the words of Andy Murray: “Happy for Ash. Gutted for tennis. What a player.”

PS – time for the Australian Open to rename a certain arena to the Ash Barty Arena.

Siddhant Guru

On Ash’s retirement, it’s obviously a huge shock as we haven’t seen a player retire at 25 years of age in probably a decade. It’s particularly shocking given Ash has been at the very top for “only” 2-3 years now. For someone to lose motivation in such a relatively short period of time… it’s a little surprising. Nevertheless, it has been an absolute privilege watching her play. She has achieved so much in her career in such a short time. I have a faint hope she will reverse her retirement decision in a few years.

Damian Kust

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as this much of a shock given she already had a year-long break before, but it certainly caught me off-guard due to how dominant she was in recent times. Am I sad that I’m not going to watch her lead the tour in the years to come? Yes, because her mix of a big forehand and a deadly slice was so unique, also the way she was among the game’s best servers with her height blows my mind. But if she feels like she’s already achieved all she wanted and doesn’t think she can keep giving her best effort, we have to respect that decision. Even retiring at 25, she’s undeniably an all-time great and a champion we won’t forget easily.

Jack Edward

Watching Ash Barty the tennis player, this makes so little sense. She makes the game look so easy; gliding aces passed her opponents from just five and a half feet tall, opening up the court with her once-in-a-generation forehand, coaxing error after error with her wicked slice.

But listening to Ash Barty the person, this couldn’t make any more sense. 

This is so Ash Barty.

I’m going to miss her a ton on the court but I don’t hold an inkling of a grudge thinking on what could have been. We can learn a lot from Ash: listen to your heart. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Left feeling a mash-up of melancholy and motivation. Good luck Ash!

Josefina Gurevich and Shravya Pant

We are big Barty Party-ers; one listen to any of our Wimbledon or Australian Open episodes will prove that to you. Naturally, our first reaction to Ash’s retirement was pure sadness. It was the first time we saw one of our favorite players whose nearly full career we had been able to witness leave the sport – it leaves you with a different sort of emptiness. But beyond our initial instinctual sadness, Barty’s heartwarming video announcement filled us with sentiments that were much more positive: pride, admiration, and an appreciation for her – how do we put it – girlboss attitude (Danielle Collins put it best: “To retire at 25, I think it really speaks to the way our sport empowers women…I think it’s so cool being able to retire at 25. What other profession would you be able to do that in? There’s not too many. I think it’s incredible for our sport”). There was a beautiful simplicity in what she said; no care for what other people thought of her decision, just fulfillment in making the choice (the operative word here and precisely what Collins was speaking to) that was best for her physical and mental wellbeing. Ash, in those six minutes on Instagram, was admirably frank and honest, challenging the standard conventions of success, fulfillment, and the passion, drive, and love an athlete has for their sport in a necessary manner. Fitting, perhaps, as her signature slice was just as refreshing of an addition regarding her on-court impact.

Tennis means a lot to Ash, but it isn’t everything. Her actions put the life of a professional athlete in true perspective, emphasizing the importance of balance and variety, things we are too quick to disregard when it comes to watching these superstar athletes. But Ash’s advice extends to more than just these professionals: you can love something so much to want to never let it go, like Delpo, but you also so much that you realize you have given it your absolute all and are ready for the next challenge. The moral of the story is: respect. Out of respect to herself, Ash decided to retire. She had goals for which she aimed throughout her professional career, however as she said in her retirement announcement… she achieved them.

Ash has brought something completely new to the table, and that is, an athletic career doesn’t only have to be about longevity. It can be about the impact made in the moment, and she realized that after a certain point in her career, she wouldn’t have been able to pursue the longevity that other athletes strive and struggle for. In addition to that, out of respect to her fans (very much including us), she postponed her retirement in order to play this year’s Australian Open. And what a way to give us a “last hurrah,” and because of that performance, she was able to walk away knowing that her choice was the right one to make. It was never a matter of “giving up”, because what was she giving up? Her No.1 spot, probably as well as the position of best and most consistent tennis player in the world? Giving that up should not be considered “giving up.” Some goals have ceilings, definite ends, and while that is rare in sports, it’s possible and Ash has demonstrated it with such innocent simplicity. Most importantly, as her fans, it is our duty to respect that of Ash. For all she has done for the sport we love so much, it is time for the sport to let her do what she needs to do.

A rarely-seen photo of a young Ash Barty on the tennis court.

Owen Lewis

The more I think about Barty retiring, the more I think the timing was more shocking than the news itself. She’s always seemed so down-to-earth, not just in a humble way, but like she intrinsically understood the limits of what tennis could provide for her. From this perspective, I’m delighted for her. As a selfish fan, I think tennis will miss her badly. This retirement really shifts the landscape — Iga Świątek, who was the world #2 and had lost to Barty both times they had played, is now comfortably the best player in the world. Two of the next four major tournaments will be played without their defending women’s singles champion. Barty’s slice, which no one seemed to know how to handle, will now only bully players on the practice courts. She may have been the most skilled server in the world; her hitting a dot anywhere in the service box at just 5’5” will never cease to amaze me. I think women’s tennis will be absolutely fine — the depth of skill in the field would be ridiculous even if the entire top 10 called it quits — but I was excited to see how long Barty could stay at the top. That she stepped down from the podium rather than being pushed off is fitting.

Caleb Pereira

I can’t really say I was a Barty fan. I first saw her in that incredibly topsy-turvy Anisimova semifinal at Roland-Garros three years ago, the one with a set lost from 5-0 up. Over most of her reign, I didn’t believe she could keep it up, adamant that the typical WTA-throne chaos was always round the corner. She proved all of us wrong. I’m sure there will be talk about her slice, talk about her forehand, but can we talk about that serve? A 10.6% ace rate over the last 50 matches of her career! Only Plíšková beats that—and Plíšková stands half a foot taller! For context to the ATP, Novak Djokovic has an 8.8% rate, and he stands more than a foot taller (I know, I know, we’re not supposed to compare across gender categories, but it’s fun sometimes). When I began to watch Barty more often, I was genuinely offended that she got cheap points off that serve against my favorite players. I didn’t understand how a 5’5” individual could pull that off, but that’s what a great spot server can do to you. Many talented players have failed to span that last chasm (the serve), the one that takes you to the upper echelons of tennis greatness where dominance is sustained—Halep, Wozniacki, Nishikori, Ferrer, you get the gist. In my opinion, that serve is probably what’s most special about her from the technical side of things. Infuriatingly good. A fount of rich abuse from all her haters. I wish her well on this next phase of her life—and I’m almost certain she comes back sometime in the next 5 years!

Brenda Parry

4.35 a.m, Wednesday 23 March 2022, my eyes still half closed: this is when I learnt via the Popcorn Tennis WhatsApp group chat the news of Ash Barty’s retirement from professional tennis that has stunned the tennis world this week coming completely out of the blue. Ash Barty, WTA world No. 1, reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, just 25 years old and dominant in the woman’s game with her unique style of play. Why?

Thinking about the person Ash Barty is, it isn’t difficult to understand why. Barty has never shied away from being different and doing things her own way. I have always admired her individuality and humility. It has also been clear for a long time what a home-loving person she is, an ordinary down-to-earth Australian girl who has remained true to herself and her origins despite the demands of competing all over the world at the highest level. As someone who lives away from her home and family, I can relate to this and the torment I frequently feel at being away from my family on a regular basis. Listening to her Instagram interview in which she discusses the reasons for her retirement with her long-time friend and former tennis player Casey Dellacqua, everything Barty said made total sense and I really admire her for having the courage to continue to follow her own path in pursuit of happiness.

Of course I am sad that tennis has lost such a humble and worthy champion. Barty has already achieved so much but could have achieved so much more and there’s no doubt that she will be sorely missed both on and off the tennis court. She is and will remain an inspiration for her impeccable attitude and commitment to the sport. However, I share her happiness and excitement that she is now free to pursue other dreams, whatever they may be, and I am convinced that she will embrace whatever
life has to offer.

I wish her all the best for her forthcoming marriage to Australian professional golfer Garry Kissick and this new chapter in her life!

Thank you Ash.

Nick Carter

The news of Ash Barty’s retirement was a big shock to wake up to. It was a shock because she’s still young (25!), she’s at her peak and could have so much more success. Her potential benefit to tennis by continuing to play is huge. So, like the rest of the tennis world I was wrestling with the sporting impact of it all. Those of us who love the competition were wondering: “why?”

Then, I watched the announcement interview, and suddenly it made sense. I thought about who Ash Barty is as a person. She is motivated by dreams, not greatness. These are dreams of being able to play a sport she loves and to win the tournaments she grew up watching on TV. I don’t think being the best, and continuing to win over and over was really what was important. She’s competitive, look at those pictures of her at an AFL game a couple of years ago for confirmation. Barty likes winning and to be part of a winning team, but it’s not everything to her. Barty’s breaks to play cricket and during COVID were confirmation that tennis was not her everything. Ash the person has always come before Ash the player.

Now that Barty has got what she wanted out of tennis, I can see why she’s not as motivated to deal with the stuff she doesn’t like. Managing her body, the travel, long spells away from home. Struggling with the grind of the tour contributed to her first retirement. She’s never liked it. We also don’t know what long-term injuries she’s dealing with. Her statements up to now have hinted at something going on, and maybe her injury on the clay last year did some lasting damage. 

We as fans of course are missing out on what would have been an incredible rivalry with Świątek this season and beyond. We are also missing out on seeing Barty clash with the other best player of her generation, Osaka, in a big match. That ‘Big Three’ would have been so fascinating. But this is not about us fans and our entertainment. This is Ash’s life, she gets to decide what she wants. She wants to be at home with her friends and family, by the barbie with a beer in hand. I can’t blame her for that, that’s all I want from life too. 

So, let her be happy. Ash Barty is already an all-time great. She has three major titles in singles (plus one in doubles), an Olympic bronze medal and has been ranked world number one for three years. She is retiring not only on a winning streak, but technically undefeated at three major events since winning them (if you don’t count her Roland-Garros retirement in 2021 as a defeat). In my view, if you win three majors, you are officially one of the best players ever. Barty has nothing more to prove to anyone, including herself, which is most important. 

Have a great life Ash. I wish you all the best and that you are happy.

Scott Barclay

Over the last week, many pundits have been quoted as saying that Ash Barty’s early retirement suggests that perhaps she never really loved tennis as much as some of our past champions. I’d disagree with that by instead offering up the idea that she absolutely does love the sport a great deal but maybe not in quite the same way as some of our past champions have. Love isn’t only represented by how hard you keep pushing yourself beyond boundaries that you’ve personally set for yourself. Instead, it’s about adjusting and shifting things around to make a comfortable relationship that everyone involved can feel at ease with. 

This is best represented by Barty herself maintaining that this isn’t the end of her time with tennis, stressing on multiple occasions that she wants to help mentor younger up-and-comers as well as introduce tennis to areas where it can help improve the lives of people that are struggling.

Changing the world isn’t only done by showering yourself with the grandest of glories on the biggest of stages. It’s by working out of the spotlight to help others enter it. 

Good luck, Ash Barty. We’ll see you down the line somewhere.

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