At the top of her sport, Ashleigh Barty is retiring from tennis.
In a stunning move, Barty, the No. 1-ranked women’s player who won her country’s major tournament, the Australian Open, in January, announced on Wednesday that she was leaving tennis for other pursuits.
Barty, who turns 26 next month, posted a video to Instagram announcing her decision through a conversation with her compatriot Casey Dellacqua, a retired player, one of her closest friends and a former doubles partner. Barty said she would also hold a news conference.
“It’s hard to say, but I’m so happy and I’m so ready,” Barty said. “And I just know at the moment in my heart for me as a person, this is right.”
She added, “I’m so grateful to everything that tennis has given me — it’s given me all of my dreams, plus more — but I know that the time is right now for me to step away and chase other dreams and to put the rackets down.”
It was the third time that Barty had stepped away from professional tennis but the first time that she had announced her retirement. In 2014, at age 17, when she already was one of the sport’s top doubles players, she took an indefinite break from the tour, citing the pressures generated by early success. During that 17-month hiatus, she played professional cricket but returned to tennis in early 2016 reinvigorated and began her climb to the summit.
Barty also took an 11-month break from the tour at the onset of the pandemic, remaining in Australia instead of traveling to tournaments abroad even after the tour’s five-month hiatus ended in August 2020.
But her surprise retirement announcement, coming with the tour back in full swing and after her latest triumph in Melbourne, is clearly a decision that she has considered at length and from a position of strength.
“There was a perspective shift in me in the second phase of my career that my happiness wasn’t dependent on the results and success for me is knowing that I’ve given absolutely everything, everything I can,” Barty told Dellacqua. “I’m fulfilling. I’m happy.”
“I know how much work it takes to bring the best out of yourself,” she said, later adding, “It’s just I don’t have that in me anymore. I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and kind of everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top level anymore and I think I just know that I’m absolutely, I am spent.”
She is the first women’s player to retire while on top of the singles rankings since the Belgian star Justine Henin unexpectedly announced her retirement in May 2008. Henin, like Barty, was just 25 years old and the reigning champion at two Grand Slam tournaments: the French Open and the US Open in Henin’s case. Henin later returned to the tour in 2010, although she never won another major title.
If Barty sticks with her decision, she will be the first player to retire after winning a Grand Slam singles title since Pete Sampras, the American star who did not play another match after winning the 2002 US Open, announcing his retirement nearly a year later.
Barty won 15 career singles titles, including three at Grand Slam tournaments: She won the French Open in 2019, Wimbledon in 2021 and the Australian Open this year.
Barty said that winning Wimbledon, long considered the ultimate achievement for Australian tennis players with their country’s close ties to Britain, shifted her outlook on her career. Winning the Australian Open gave her a storybook ending.
“To be able to win Wimbledon, which was my dream, my one true dream that I wanted in tennis, that really changed my perspective,” she said, adding, “And there was just a little part of me that wasn’t quite satisfied, wasn’t quite fulfilled. And then came the challenges of the Australian Open and I think that for me just feels like the most perfect way. My perfect way to celebrate what an amazing journey my tennis career has been.”
Barty continued, “I’ve given absolutely everything I can to this beautiful sport of tennis and I’m really happy with that. And for me that is my success. And I know that people may not understand it and that’s OK. I’m OK with that. Because I know that for me, Ash Barty the person has so many dreams that she wants to chase after that don’t necessarily involve traveling the world, being away from my family, being away from my home, which is where I’ve always wanted to be.”