Retirement No 1
Wednesday’s bombshell was not the first time Barty has called time on her tennis career – she did likewise after the US Open in 2014, saying the rigours of the professional tour meant she had missed out on the kind of life a normal teenager enjoys.
So Barty went and did what any normal teenager would do – play professional cricket. But after just one impressive season with the Brisbane Heat in the WBBL, Barty decided to return to tennis in 2016, even though at the time she wasn’t sure if her decision would pay off.
“I was very young, but I turn 20 this year and it’s a different perspective on life and tennis in general,” she told the WTA website at the time. “If it works, great. If it doesn’t, I can’t really complain. I’ve had a phenomenal career for the short time that I did play.”
First taste of grand slam success in 2019
It did work out for Barty, who returned to the court under the tutelage of coach Craig Tyzzer, initially in doubles before embarking on what would be a remarkable rise up the singles rankings.
By the end of 2017, she was ranked inside the Top 20 and a year later the Top 15. WTA titles were pocketed but her major breakthrough came at Roland Garros in June 2019 when she claimed the first of what would be her three grand slam titles, following in the footsteps of compatriot Margaret Court 46 years previously and becoming the first Australian to win a grand slam singles title since Sam Stosur at the 2014 US Open.
Another Australian, Pat Cash, summed up Barty’s meteoric rise after her 6-1, 6-3 win over Czech teenager Markéta Vondroušová in the French Open final. “Where she has come in the last year is just incredible. She was a decent player and a very good doubles player – and the next thing you know, she’s a grand slam champion.”
World No 1 for 121 weeks
As the freshly minted French Open champion, Barty rose to No 2 in the world before she reached the pinnacle of women’s tennis for the first time with victory in her next tournament, the Birmingham Classic. It was a lofty position she would get used to. Despite briefly losing the top spot to Naomi Osaka, she regained it and did not relinquish it again. In total, Barty spent 121 weeks on top of the world and became just the fifth woman to finish the year as No 1 for three consecutive years.
Victory on the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon in 2021
Last year was a big year for Barty. After an 11-month hiatus due to the impact of Covid-19 on international travel, the Queenslander – still ranked No 1 – returned with a bang as she continued to enjoy success on the tour, picking up three titles, including the 2021 Miami Open. By June, she had claimed the biggest of them all and lived out a dream on the grass courts on SW19 by winning her second grand slam title. She did so against Karolína Plíšková after a tense final to become the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon since her mentor and idol Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980. That Barty chose to wear a scallop-patterned dress inspired by her cultural roots and links with fellow proud Indigenous woman Goolagong Cawley made her achievement and the moment even more special.
Crowning moment on Australian soil in early 2022
Success at her home slam had eluded Barty until this year when she staged a fairytale run to the final at Melbourne Park. In front of an adoring public, her dominance was total – she did not drop a single set and lost just one service game on her way to the championship decider against Danielle Collins, who she then dispatched in straight sets to end a 44-year wait for an Australian woman to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. Everyone from Rod Laver to Cathy Freeman, Russell Crowe to Chris O’Neil was present to witness her ascension to Australian sporting greatness, although it was Goolagong Cawley who stole the show when she surprised Barty by appearing on court to hand her the Australian Open trophy.
A humble champion
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if Barty is actually a singular entity, such is her insistence on including her wider team in any individual praise aimed her way. Rarely does she refer to herself as “I” – rather it’s “we”, an acknowledgment of the unseen efforts of those around her and reflective of her opinion that tennis, despite appearing to be a very individual sport, is a team game.
It is a small verbal tick that speaks a great deal about Barty the person. Despite her enormous success, her humility became a shining trait during her career – and an inspiration to many across the globe.
Take this year’s Australian Open, and her words about the great Rod Laver, as one of numerous examples. “He was unbeatable. I’m certainly not. I’m just out here doing what I can, enjoying it.” Or when she reached the top of the rankings for the first time, emulating Goolagong Cawley: “I’m nowhere near her status. To be mentioned in the same sentence is incredible.”