Ashleigh Barty surprised everyone by announcing her retirement at only 25 years old while she dominated world tennis on Wednesday.
The Australian is full of envy and dreams, but more on the courts. Women’s tennis loses not only its world number one but also a player with a unique palette. But Barty’s choice couldn’t be more respectable.
Ashleigh Barty owes nothing to anyone. Not to you, not to us, not to tennis. By retiring at the age of 25 in full glory, while she sits at the top of her sport and has just won the Australian Open at home, the world number one has undoubtedly caused a shock, but she has made a choice that belongs only to her.
This decision arouses immense regret for women’s tennis, tennis itself, and respect at least as important.
At the end of the road, no matter how long, freedom of choice is the only one left. Ashleigh Barty’s decision is nothing more than that of a free person to draw his own life, invent new dreams, and bring his desires and future into conformity.
As unexpected as it is, as brutal as it may seem, the announcement of her retirement finally looks quite like this young woman who has never hesitated to let herself be guided by her instinct without worrying about reactions or judgment.
The way everyone looks at their choice concerns… everyone, certainly not herself. This common thread of her own and constant freedom reinforces respect for her choice of the day, the one that favors the balance of the woman rather than the career of the champion. The second will never be worth weakening the first.
Should we be surprised? Leaving at 25 is not common. When you’re number one in the world, you’ve just won a Grand Slam title even less.
There is Borg in this decision. Except that the legendary Swede had left 40 years ago because he could not get enough of this way of life (totally delusional about him as he had become a planetary icon well beyond his sport and even sport) when Barty, she seems to move away before being engulfed by this life of which Mats Wilander reminded us just last month how “abnormal” it is.
A nomadic life, made of remoteness and isolation, dazzling but violent spotlights, sometimes, most often even, from an early age. The sport needs this light. Athletes also to a certain extent, but it is sometimes (often?) a burden as much as an opportunity. Not everyone thrives there, nor under this constant pressure that the media or the public can impose without seeking or wanting it.
It is not enough to like hitting a ball to flourish durably in this environment, and success is not always enough. On the contrary, it sometimes helps to reinforce certain harmful effects.
And the “funny” period of Covid-19, these last two years, has only added difficulty to the difficulty. Did the pandemic cause the Australian champion’s decision? Probably not. But it may have accelerated it.
Barty: “I’m going to retire.”
For Ashleigh Barty, as for anyone else, it is better to leave for good reasons than to continue for bad ones. It is better to know a Barty soothed away from the courts than to see an Osaka suffering on it.
This decision deserves respect, but it undoubtedly requires some form of courage. It no longer wanted income and securities bonds.
If she had achieved her big goal by winning her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2019, she would have just fulfilled her only two true dreams by triumphing at Wimbledon and in Melbourne at home. She didn’t see anymore on the horizon.
Some are never satisfied; chase titles and records as much and as long as possible. These are the Serena, the Djoko, and so on. Others love tennis and/or competition so much that they prolong the pleasure even though it can be akin to certain suffering and despite their full awareness that their future will never touch their more or less glorious past.
They are the Wawrinka, the Murray, the Tsonga, the Gasquet. A record, a new major title, pure pleasure, the last thrill, no importance.
All these choices are respectable as long as they are made in harmony with oneself. Ashleigh Barty’s is no less so. She doesn’t like tennis enough anymore, she says so, and she leaves. So much the better for her, surely. Too bad for us, perhaps.
Since the player cannot help but be regretted, his tennis ticked all the boxes of modernity while retaining the old charm. Tennis of a rare variety (ah, this slice …) and always subtle that did well to the eyes.
It was a chance for the WTA to see this tennis, capable of dictating its law on playgrounds as varied as clay, grass, or hard, impose itself at its top.
So it’s a loss, no doubt. The champion will also be missed. Barty was anything but a star. She had not and would never have had the potential of a Serena Williams in this area.
But his kindness and simplicity were unanimous among his colleagues and beyond. It is, of course, never good to speak ill of people who leave, to the point of rendering some eulogies excessive or suspicious.
Ashleigh Barty is, fortunately, all that is alive, perhaps even more than ever since Wednesday morning, but the champion will now tell herself in the past. Yet, you can be sure; all the tributes paid this Wednesday are sincere. On the circuit, everyone will miss Ashleigh Barty.
Promised a bright future early on, since her junior crown at Wimbledon in 2011 at the age of 15, Barty had already moved away from tennis at the end of 2014 to play cricket. She returned to the competition a year and a half later.
“I had never closed the door. It was the best decision to leave, and still a better decision to return to tennis. I needed a little perspective to live a normal life because tennis does not allow a normal life and time to mature,” she said in 2019 about this long and already iconoclastic cut.
She could hold the same words today, except for the “still better decision to come back.”
But who knows. At only 25 years old, maybe one day, in a month, in a year, she will again feel the need and the desire to rub shoulders with competition and tennis again.
Let us bet that, if she returns one day, she will do so in the same spirit that pushes her to leave: in complete freedom.
DiP’s eye: “Barty is the strongest and most complete player on the women’s circuit.”