Reflecting on the shock exit and superb career of Ash Barty

Ash Barty
Ash Barty departs the tour as reigning world no.1 for 114 consecutive weeks | Lev Radin/Shutterstock

Unfortunately, we appear to be in a particularly depressing news cycle. And while nothing compares to the trauma and brutality of events in Ukraine, for the tennis world, this is a sad day.

World no.1 and reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion Ash Barty has announced her shock retirement at the age of just 25. Befitting her pleasant nature, Barty announced the decision on Instagram through an interview with her close friend and former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua.

Straining to hold back emotion, Barty revealed the reason behind the video post and presumably, her absence from Indian Wells and Miami.

I wasn't quite sure how I was going to do this...There's no right way, there's no wrong way, it's just my way and this is perfect for me...I will be retiring from tennis

After that astonishing intro, Barty outlined some of the reasons for her decision.

It's something I've been thinking about for a long time...I just had that gut feeling after Wimbledon [where she achieved her dream of winning it] and had spoken to my team quite a lot about it. There was just a little part of me that wasn't quite satisfied, that wasn't quite fulfilled, and then came the challenge of the Australian Open.

And that for me just feels like the most perfect way, 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.

With that, the tennis tour loses one its brightest lights. It's inarguable that she has achieved extraordinary things as a player.

Barty is one of only 27 women to hold the no.1 ranking on the WTA Tour. She has three grand slam wins (Roland Garros 2019, Wimbledon 2021 & Australian Open 2022) and 27 titles overall in singles and doubles. Her efforts have earned almost $24 million in prize money excluding endorsements.

But beyond those accolades, Barty is universally revered for her expansive and polished style of play, and beloved by players and fans for her human qualities.

Barty is such a rare tennis player.

Ash Barty
I'm thankful now that in 2019, I went to see Barty twice at Roland Garros. She was fabulous to watch in person.

While only measuring 5' 5", she possesses the best serve on tour. Her groundstroke arsenal includes a menacing, dominant forehand and a devilish slice backhand. When you align those weapons with nimble footwork, outstanding net play, great defensive skills, speed, intelligence and application - you have someone truly special.

The Australian is also somewhat unique in her understated demeanour and charm. She comes across as a lovely person and that's clearly backed up by those who know her best.

Barty will even be missed by her fellow players. You might struggle to hold in a tear while reading the tributes from Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova, Sloane Stephens, Kiki Bertens, Caroline Garcia and growing. In short, she is both a wonderful player and person.

And while I'm pleased that she;s pleased, as a tennis fan and writer, I can't ignore the lost possibilities.

As it stands, she will leave the tour only a US Open title short of a career grand slam. Only ten women have achieved that and Barty certainly could have joined them.

The 25-year-old is a three-time major winner but her ability is worthy of many more. In a perfect world, Barty would retire from the sport with probably six to ten singles grand slams, shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Monica Seles, Venus Williams, Justine Henin and her idol Evonne Goolagong.

We also miss out on an exciting rivalry for top spot with the new world no.2 Iga Swiatek. But to focus on those aspects is to miss the point of what makes Barty so refreshing.

After retiring as an 18-year-old due to the demands of the tour, she learned the importance of balancing personal happiness with professional success. This perspective was probably enhanced by her extended periods on and off tour during the pandemic.

Now, having conquered the world in her comeback and become indisputably the best female player around, it appears that she's content with her lot.

I'm fulfilled. I'm happy. I know how much work it takes to bring the best out of yourself and I've said it to my team multiple times...I don't have that in me anymore.

In retiring early, Barty follows in the footsteps of players like Bjorn Borg, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. Like Barty, the Belgian left the sport as world no.1 in 2008.

All of those players returned to the tour at a later point but that may not be the case for the multi-talented Barty. Might she return to cricket for a bit? She's also brilliant at golf if that isn’t enough? Or maybe she'll start a family after her recent engagement

Whatever her choice, I selfishly hold out hope that one day we might see this wonderful titan and ambassador for the sport pick up her racquets again. On her terms, naturally.

She knows no other way.