A bombshell in the tennis world today as world number 1 and the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, Ashleigh Barty announced her retirement from tennis. Aged just 25, Barty has always been an atypical tennis player. A top junior snd successful doubles player as a teenager, Barty walked away from tennis after finding the grind of the tour not conducive to her mental health. Barty was away for a couple of years, and played cricket in her native Australia, before returning to the tour in 2016
I first saw Barty live at the Birmingham WTA event, beating Garbiñe Muguruza in the semi-finals. I was paying more attention to Petra Kvitova, who beat Barty the following day in the final – her first title after returning from the hand injury sustained in a knife attack. That fairy tale return victory was a three set battle with Barty. Indeed, Petra vs Ash has been a compelling rivalry over the last few years.
Barty would lose to Petra twice at the start of 2019, in the Sydney final and the QF of the Australian Open, where Petra made the final and lost out narrowly to Naomi Osaka. Barty had all the skills, but often seemed to struggle to finish matches. Kvitova really had no right winning that Sydney final. She was cramping badly yet was tougher than Ash in the final set tie break. Barty is a modest 5’5” but is very fit and strong, a dynamic mover with a serve that has got better and better and a wonderful slice backhand. Indeed, many of the players are starting to use more slice – Barty’s influence? She has helped bring some variety bsck to the women’s game.
The respect between Kvitova and Barty has been terrific and win or lose, the pair always give a warm embrace. Fittingly, with Barty’s retirement, their head to head ends at 5-5.
The second time I saw Ash Barty play live was the day before she ascended to world number 1. She had snatched the Roland Garros title out of nowhere a few weeks before and played beautifully against Barbora Strycova. She would best her good friend Julia Goerges in the final the following day to reach world number 1.
Barty’s 2019 rapid rise began with the Miami Open in March 2019. With my usual Kvitova slant, it was a pivotal win against Petra – her first – that seemed to give Ash the belief that she did belong. From there she rolled to the title and a few weeks later her first grand slam title. Having been one of the most talented players for a couple of years, once Ash had the confidence and belief there was no stopping her. She would remain at the top of the rankings and grow in confidence and stature.
The last time I saw Ash play live was the Wimbledon singles final in 2021. as you can see from my photo above, I really lucked out in the ticket ballot with fabulous seats. While not a huge fan of Barty or Karolina Pliskova I like them both. The atmosphere of a grand slam final was amazing. This was one of the first full capacity events during the COVID 19 pandemic. Prince William and Princess Kate were there along with Tom Cruise and the usual host of celebrities. Pliskova started so badly, the British crowd – who love an underdog – really started cheering for her, creating a wonderful atmosphere. However, Barty was always the likely winner. She had come into the tournament hampered by injury but played herself into form and her game was pretty much perfect for grass – good serve, wicked slice, powerful forehand. The usually stoic pair were both quite emotional on court. Tears from Ash Barry and Karolina Pliskova are very much unknown, yet both choked up when faced with Sue Barker’s on court questions. A special day for Barty – and for me too. A wonderful celebration of tennis and just a brilliant experience.
So here we are less than a year later. Barty won the Australian Open in January, pretty much untested. Presented with her trophy by her idol, Evonne Goolagong, it was the perfect ending to a short but impressive career.
Whether Barty returns to try to complete her set of slams with the US Open title one day, who knows.
Barty’s retirement leaves a big gap at the top of the rankings. Heir presumptive and new world number 2 is Iga Swiatek, who has just won back to back WTA1000 titles in Doha and Indian Wells and is going for three in a row in Miami this week.
The young Pole is only 20 and of all of the top 10, Iga is the one who is probably still improving. While well beaten by Barty in Adelaide and Danielle Collins at the Australian Open, she is a better player now. Her game can be dazzling at times and the prospect of seeing her match herself against Barty was an intriguing one. Iga is likely to be the next world number 1 with Ash’s retirement, but there are chances for Krejcikova, Badosa, Sakkari, Sabalenka and Kontaveit. Fascinating times ahead…
In ’my faves’ news, Petra Kvitova got a win against Sasnovich in Indian Wells last week but was well beaten by Maria Sakkari, seemingly a little bothered by the wrist injury, although she made no excuses. Petra has Clara Burel in R2 of Miami with a likely match up against Muguruza if she can get through that. Petra has a good record against Garbi but she has a point to prove too after an uninspiring start to the season. Tough to see Petra getting too far in the Miami humidity.
Barbora Krejcikova is still out with the arm injury and had been over taken in the ranking but remains in the top 5. However, it does seem like her momentum has stalled with some defeats snd injuries. Hope she can get back to the court and winning ways soon.