On her day, Ashleigh Barty was an unstoppable force.
Barty’s mixture of crushing groundstrokes and slice backhand, which is as near to a perfect shot as there has been, at times made her irrepressible.
This was never more apparent than at January’s Australian Open – the site of the last of Barty’s three grand slam titles – where she didn’t drop a set on the way to becoming the tournament’s first home champion since 1978.
With time on her side, the only question that remained immediately after her Australian Open win was: how many grand slams could she win?
Despite her success, Barty said she had been thinking about retirement for “a long time.” In fact, she admitted her decision to retire was only solidified by her Australian Open and Wimbledon victories last year.
“Wimbledon last year changed a lot for me as a person and for me as an athlete,” Barty said in her retirement video. “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.”
Barty becomes just the second woman in history to retire while ranked world No. 1, following Justine Henin in 2008, but it’s not the first time she has walked away from the sport.
In 2014, four years after starting her tennis career, she took a 21-month break aged 18, saying at the time “it was too much too quickly.”
The Australian showed her prodigious talents were not limited to the court as she played cricket professionally for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League.
She is also a keen golfer and is apparently rather good at that, too. In 2020, Barty won the women’s championship at the Brookwater Golf Club near Brisbane and 15-time major winner Tiger Woods once reportedly described her as having a “great swing.”
“What’s next for you? Grand Slam champion in golf?!” former tennis world No. 1 Simona Halep asked on Twitter.
The coronavirus pandemic during the 2021 tennis season presented previously unseen challenges, as travel restrictions in Australia meant Barty was unable to return home for most of the year.
Barty won Wimbledon during that time but realized – even in achieving her lifelong goal – there was something missing.
“I just had that gut feeling after Wimbledon and had spoken to my team quite a lot about it,” she said. “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.”
There is no doubt her presence in tennis will be sorely missed.
At a time when the careers of some of the all-time greats – such as the Williams sisters, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – are drawing to a close, Barty was at the forefront of the current group of stars looking to carry the sport forward.
But her departure opens the door for any number of players in the women’s game to stake their claim to being the best in the world.
Iga Swiatek, the recent Indian Wells champion, is perhaps best placed to do so and will be bumped up to world No. 1 after Barty’s departure. The 20-year-old is already a major champion, having won the French Open in 2020 to become the first Polish player in history to win a grand slam title.
Barty leaves tennis having dominated on every surface, winning Wimbledon, the French Open and the Australian Open, and with 15 career titles. She will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the sport’s most gifted players.
“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, it’s just I don’t have that in me anymore.
“I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want, and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level anymore, and I just know that I am spent. I just know physically, I have nothing more to give. That, for me, is success.”