Ashleigh Barty was in the kind of tennis form that most players can only dream of. The world’s No. 1-ranked player had collected two Grand Slam titles in the space of six months. She’d become the first Australian player to win the Australian Open in decades. And, at 25, she was poised to chase plenty more majors with a style to dominate the women’s circuit.
Then on Wednesday, the 5-foot-5 powerhouse from Brisbane did something even more stunning: She retired from tennis at the top of her game.
“It’s hard to say, but I’m so happy and I’m so ready,” she said. “I just know in my heart that for me as a person, this is right.”
Barty’s decision caught the tennis world completely off-guard. The three-time major winner has no publicly-known injuries and was playing as well as she ever has in her short career. As the season rounded into the French Open and Wimbledon—two tournaments she has already won—Barty would have been among the clear favorites. By stepping away now, she is likely leaving several major titles and millions of dollars on the table.
But Barty was never one to cut a traditional path through sports. A gifted all-round athlete, she only thing to make her life in tennis after dabbling in pro cricket the summer after she turned 18. Now, she says, she has checked off everything she hoped to achieve in the game and has nothing left in the tank.
“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,” Barty said, making her announcement in an interview with the Australian former pro Casey Dellacqua, who is her close friend and former doubles partner.
“I just know that I am spent. I just know that physically I have nothing more to give.”
Barty didn’t get into specifics about any lingering physical issues or what she plans to do at an age when most players are just entering their primes. She said only that she’d now like to “chase other dreams.”
But her status as a national hero in Australia is already safe. Barty was the one to end the country’s long major title drought and, wherever she went on tour, always spoke proudly of her Ngaragu heritage. Her retirement on Wednesday prompted an immediate tribute from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“I particularly want to say thank you to you, Ash, for inspiring a generation of young people and particularly a generation of young Indigenous people in this country,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Barty has stepped away from tennis. Her foray into cricket came with a 17-month break from the circuit. She also took an extended hiatus in 2020, when she chose to stay in Australia during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even when the tennis tour resumed that fall, she remained in Australia instead of playing the US Open and French Open, partly because of the strict quarantine rules she would have faced on her way back from any travel to Europe or North America.
Instead, she stayed home, kept in shape, and indulged her love of other sports. She tried her hand at golf and won a local tournament. (That shouldn’t have been a surprise: The first time Barty ever played 18 holes, she shot a 79.)
“My friend, I will miss you on tour,” former world No. 1 Simona Halep tweeted. “”You were different, and special, and we shared some amazing moments. What’s next for you? Grand Slam champion in golf?!”
When Barty returned, in 2021, she had just one goal in mind, the one she called her “one true dream” in tennis. Barty wanted Wimbledon. The adventure required staying on the road with her team for four straight months.
“To be able to play here, you do absolutely anything,” she said in London. “You bend over backwards to make sure you can prepare yourself in a way that you can experience Wimbledon.”
The bet paid off. Barty defeated Karolina Pliskova in the final on Center Court to become the first Wimbledon women’s singles champion from Australia since her mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980. That’s when, Barty says, she first began to think about quitting. “That really changed my perspective,” she says.
As it turned out, Barty had one more objective in the sport. After winning Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, she felt like she needed to take another shot at the Australian Open. Not many athletes can even think in those terms. But Barty knew it was within her reach.
With her punishing forehand and tricky backhand, she had begun to create some order in women’s tennis after years of wide-open fields. The sport where anyone seemed to be a potential champion at any given major finally had someone to fill the vacuum at the top.
Barty hammered the point home in Melbourne in January. During her charmed run to her first—and now only—Australian Open title, she spent barely 7.5 hours on court. No one inside Rod Laver Arena knew it at the time, but this was Barty’s farewell.
“As an Aussie, the most important part of this tournament is being able to share it with so many people,” she said after beating the American Danielle Collins. “This crowd, you relaxed me, you forced me to play my best tennis.”
Write to Joshua Robinson at Joshua.Robinson@wsj.com
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