By Lucy Roberts
Former world No 1 tennis star Ashleigh Barty clearly isn’t afraid of change and pushing herself out of her comfort zone.
The 25-year-old was at the very top of the game and was fresh from her first Australian Open in her home country when she announced she was retiring from tennis.
This shock departure surprised not only the tennis world but even people who had no interest in the sport, because it’s unheard of.
But not that unheard of as she’s done it all before.
Barty started her tennis career at just four years old and that’s when she started working with her long-time junior coach Jim Joyce who never used to train children that young but had to make an exception because of her excellent hand-eye coordination skills.
Cut to 11 years later and Barty had a former top 20 player, Jason Stolenberg, as her coach and she was travelling around Europe as part of her junior schedule. This meant she was away from her family a lot and in the season where she turned 17, she only spent 27 days at home.
The Aussie started playing on the ITF Junior Circuit in 2009 when she was 13, initially competing in low level tournaments but just two years later she played her first junior Grand Slam at the Australian Open where she lost in her opening round match. After another unsuccessful attempt to win a major junior title at the French Open, she finally succeeded in 2015 when she won her only junior Grand Slam title at Wimbledon – with only one dropped shot throughout the whole competition.
Barty kicked off her professional career when she was 14 years old when she played at an ITF Women’s Circuit event in Ipswich, Australia – her hometown – however she lost her first match. But later that season she managed to reach the semi finals in her second competition as a professional at Mount Gambier. After winning a junior title at Wimbledon in 2011, she was awarded with a wildcard into qualifying for the US Open, making it her first WTA match appearance, but she failed to make it into the main draw.
However, she didn’t have to wait long to make her debut appearance in a WTA main draw as at the start of the 2012 season, she made her initial double main draw at the Brisbane International where she partnered up with Casey Dellacqua to make it to the semi-finals. Then a week later she made her singles debut in a main draw at the Hobart International, but she wasn’t as successful because she lost her first-round tie. But 2012 was the year of Grand Slam main draws for Barty – she didn’t make it past the first round, but she did manage to get to the opening rounds of the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon for the first time.
But over on the ITF circuit she won four titles in both doubles and singles tournaments which saw her rise to world No 177 in the WTA singles rankings after having broken into the top 200 at the age of 16, while she ended the year world No 129 in doubles. And she built upon this in 2013 but she focussed on her doubles game primarily during this year. Barty and Dellacqua finished as runners up in three of the four Grand Slam tournaments and they won the Birmingham Classic which helped the Aussie rise just outside of the top 10 in the rankings as she finished the year as world No 12 in doubles. Over on the singles side though she played only eight main draws throughout the whole year and started her season by losing her opening round match at the Happy Slam. 2014 was more of the same for Barty as she managed to qualify for three Grand Slam main draws but lost her first-round ties, while her doubles pairing with fellow Australian Dellacqua saw them win at the International de Strasbourg during the clay season, but they failed to defend their title in Birmingham despite making it to the final.
After the US Open in 2014, Barty made a shock announcement, similar to the one she made last month, that she was taking a break from tennis, and she started playing cricket instead. She met with the Australian women’s national team at the beginning of 2015, and she spoke to the coach of Queensland Fire, who were changing to Brisbane Fire, about how she could get involved in the sport. She started to train with them from July and additionally started playing for the Western Suburbs District Cricket Team who compete in a Twenty20 league in Brisbane. She played 13 matches for them and in that time helped the team win the league’s grand final and became the team’s top scorer in that match. Barty also signed for Brisbane Heat for the first ever Women’s Big Bash League season and was a regular on the team.
But she was ready to return to tennis after the WBBL season finished in February 2016 and she started to train with Craig Tyzzer. She eased herself back in by playing doubles tournaments on the ITF circuit where she played five and won three. And she didn’t do too badly in singles too as she returned to the WTA tour and managed to make it to the semi finals of the Nottingham Open.
Barty started off her 2017 campaign with her first match wins at the Australian Open as she made it to the third round. Next on the agenda was the Malaysian Open where she won both the singles and the doubles title making it her first WTA singles title. She achieved her first top 10 victory at the Cincinnati Open that year after defeated world No 9 Venus Williams. After reaching her first Premier 5 final at the Wuhan Open, she finished the season at a career high ranking of world No 17. Meanwhile her doubles game was going from strength to strength as she reunited with partner Dellacqua and they went on to win four titles that season as well as earning a place in the WTA Finals where they lost in the first round to the lowest seeded team, but it still catapulted Barty to a new career high doubles ranking of world No 11.
The Barty/Dellacqua partnership had one last hurrah at the 2018 Australian Open as it was their last WTA tournament together before Dellacqua’s retirement. Barty partnered up CoCo Vandeweghe in the next three doubles competitions and they won the Miami Open together and then the US Open later in the year. Barty also paired up with Demi Schuurs in the season and they won both of their tournaments together – the Italian Open and the Canadian Open. She was also taking part in singles tournaments, and she got her second title win under her belt at the Nottingham Open where she beat British No 1 Johanna Konta in the final, and she also got the furthest she’d ever got in a Grand Slam competition so far as she reached the fourth round at the US Open. As a result of maintaining her top 20 ranking, she qualified for the Elite Trophy which she went on to win making it the biggest title of her career so far and she ended the season as world No 15.
In 2019, Barty became the first Australian to make it to the quarter finals at the Australian Open since Jelena Dokic did 10 years previous. However, she achieved something even more incredible during this season as she won her first ever Grand Slam title at the French Open which put her at No 2 in the rankings, before she won the Birmingham Classic which upgraded her to No 1. She ended the year by winning the WTA Finals as the top seed, as world No 1, the WTA Player of the Year and with $4.42 million in prize money as a result of her win at the tournament – the largest amount of prize money at a single’s men’s or women’s tournament in tennis.
Barty opted to have a shorter season in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic but she still managed to win the Adelaide International which was her first win on home soil. After an unsuccessful Australian Open, she headed to the Indian Wells Masters later in the season but play was suspended before play before due to the pandemic. Tournaments resumed in August but Barty made the decision to skip the rest of the year due to her concerns about travelling in a pandemic.
After an 11-month hiatus, Barty was back in 2021 at the Yarra Valley Classic which she won after defeating Garbine Muguruza in the final. She went on to defend her title from 2019 at the Miami Open and this was the first time she’d played a tournament outside of Australia for over a year. She had a very successful clay court season as she won at the Stuttgart Open and posted her best result at the Madrid Open, but she lost to Aryna Sabalenka in the final. Despite having to retire at the Italian Open and French Open due to injuries, she won her second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. She was hoping to continue this success at the Tokyo Olympics, but she shockingly crashed out after the first round, however she won a bronze medal in the mixed doubles tournament. She was also the favourite to win the US Open that season, but she lost in the third round to Shelby Rogers, and she made the decision again that she was going to cut her season short and return to Australia, but she still finished the year as world No 1.
Barty had an incredibly successful start to the 2022 season before she decided to call it quits on her tennis career. She won the Adelaide International in the singles and doubles tournaments. And then she finally, finally managed to win her home Grand Slam, the Australian Open, after defeating Danielle Collins in the final without dropping a single shot throughout the whole tournament.
But in March, she decided to put an end to her tennis career as she admitted she didn’t have the drive anymore to carry on in the sport. There was a lot of speculation about which sport she was going to take up next and it appears it will be golf despite previously suggesting she wouldn’t take up the sport.
She’s already signed up to take part in a golf exhibition series, the Icons Series, in July which will also see Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Olympic champion Michael Phelps take part.
It looks like the sporting world is going to see a lot more of Ashleigh Barty, she’s only 25 years old, so she's got many more sports to try.