World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty recently took the world by shock by announcing a sudden retirement from tennis at the young age of just 25. The three-time Grand Slam champion, who won the 2022 Australian Open title, announced her decision, too, with immediate effect. She took to social media in an interview with her doubles partner, Casey Dellacqua.
Barty revealed that “she feels it is the right time for her to retire from the sport and chase other important dreams”. Important dreams? Well, Barty didn’t really talk much about her decision. But one thing that she admitted to Casey was that she now lacks the physical drive and the emotional drive in her.
After bagging 15 singles and 12 doubles trophies, Barty retires as world No. 1, making her the second Australian player to earn that title with the WTA. In addition, Barty has won three singles Grand Slam titles: the French Open in 2019, Wimbledon in 2021, and most recently, the Australian Open, making her the first woman to win the title on home soil since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
Barty hasn’t played a single match since her win Down Under. Everyone expected her to return to the Indian Wells and Miami events. She then pulled out of the two events, citing the fatigue factor after the Australian Open. There were hardly any unexpected signals coming from her side. In fact, she gave hope to the tennis world by saying that she is looking forward to the Billie Jean King Cup in April.
Overall, it has been a bitter-sweet year for Australian tennis thus far. The 2022 season began with the retirement of another Australian legend, Samantha Stosur, following her second-round defeat at the Australian Open. That shock was, however, absorbed after Barty’s thumping win, which came after a gap of a few days.
What is the right time?
Looking at Barty’s career, where she spent 120 weeks as world No. 1 on the WTA Rankings – only the fifth player after Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, and Serena Williams to complete 100 successive weeks at the top – her decision to retire at such a young age has opened up the debate in sporting circles.
Not to forget that we are also living in a time when 40-year-old champions like Roger Federer and Serena Williams have yet to leave the circuit. It does come across as a strange thing that a 25-year-old top-ranked has found it difficult to find any motivation to continue.
There is no doubt that every athlete is different when it comes to finding the most suitable time to quit. There could be multiple reasons for an athlete to decide to retire, from lack of motivation to the inability to remain competitive to seeking time with family. Famous cricketer Sunil Gavaskar once said that one should retire when your fans ask ‘why’, and not when they ask, ‘why not?’.
For most, calling it quits is a difficult choice to make. Are you physically ready to retire? Is your mind ready to find your next passion? Are you emotionally ready for a lifestyle change? Is your team or coach in support of this decision? Where do family and close friends stand on the issue? These are some of the key factors to consider when making this life-changing decision for any individual athlete.
However, things changed for Barty after she won Wimbledon in 2021. “Wimbledon last year changed a lot for me as a person and as an athlete, when you work so hard, your whole life for one goal. To be able to win Wimbledon, which was my dream, was the one true dream that I wanted in tennis, and that really changed my perspective. I just had that gut feeling after Wimbledon and had spoken to my team quite a lot about it”, she said in an interview.
History plays a part
It is no secret that Barty suffered from depression on the tour after turning professional as a teenager, leading her to quit and briefly reinvent herself as a professional cricketer for Queensland.
When COVID halted tennis in 2020, she took nearly a year off to stay home with her family rather than rejoin the circuit when it resumed. As players battled at the delayed 2020 French Open, Barty was spotted in the crowd at an Australian Rules football match in Brisbane, cheering for her friend Richmond Tigers with a cup of beer in her hand.
The Aussie star bows out with almost $24 million in career prize money and as a national hero by beating American Danielle Collins in the Australian Open final in January. She has been an idol for her country’s indigenous population after becoming the only second Aboriginal Australian to win a Grand Slam after the great Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
On June 24, 2019, Barty took the world No. 1 ranking and never relinquished it, finishing strong in Grand Slams for the next two and a half years. She previously retired from tennis in 2014, and the following year, decided to pick up cricket, playing for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League. She returned to tennis in 2016.
Is she sounding unreal?
The reason behind the sudden retirement announcement is still largely unclear. The whole tennis world is making speculations, giving their takes on the possible reasons for Barty’s retirement. Is the current Covid-19 pandemic also to blame for this hasty decision? Well, it may or may not be!
It may not be a wise decision to arrive at a conclusion. The current generation’s attitude to having no time to waste could well be one way to describe this sudden decision. The modern generation seeks instant pleasure, fast food, and high-speed internet, amongst all that list of quick fixes. In recent times, one may compare it with the decision of some Sri Lankan players to retire from one format of the game to find time for other things in life.
Barty has been a sporting icon for the entire world. Having started her tennis career at the age of 14, she left the sport after four years to try her hand at cricket. Apart from tennis and cricket, people close to Barty are aware of her love for golf. She has been spotted on golf courses often during the forced Covid break.
She not only participated in the Brookwater Golf Club women’s championship but also won it. Apart from playing, she also has another connection with golf. Barty’s longtime boyfriend, Garry Kissick, is a golfer. The two met in 2016, and it was last November that they announced their engagement.
So, what next?
For years, elite athletes have made many personal sacrifices to achieve their professional goals. As they chase after their athletic aspirations, they’re often left with the decision to put certain things on hold, from family life to romantic relationships and even academic endeavours.
So, athlete retirement is a truly unique experience, during which an entire transitional process takes place. As athletes move on to venture out into a new life, they often fear uncertainty. Barty has so far been clear in her mind. And who knows if she will soon share her larger goals which will help us understand her decision to retire from sports at the age of 25? Barty is also hoping she can use her spare time to give back to the indigenous community, as she is a proud Ngaragu woman.
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