The vast majority of retirements from tennis are understandable. Usually, it’s the body that drives the decision, a veteran player physically unable to compete effectively at his or her desired skill level. Often laced in with this is the emotional and mental fatigue that naturally accompanies life in a competitive, singular endeavor. The combination of those factors allows us to accept and even appreciate the player opting to exit.

But then there come those rare moments that appear to defy logic. One came a year ago today, when Ashleigh Barty announced her retirement from professional tennis.

Said Barty, “I just know that I am absolutely—I am spent—I just know physically I have nothing more to give. And that to me is success. I have given absolutely everything I can to this beautiful sport of tennis.”

On that day, Barty was 25 years old and ranked number one in the world. Less than two months earlier, she’d won the Australian Open, her third singles major. The stage seemed set for many great Barty moments to come, including potentially compelling rivalries with contemporaries Iga Swiatek, Naomi Osaka, Ons Jabeur, and Aryna Sabalenka, as well as cross-generational matches versus the likes of Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka, and Petra Kvitova.

For a highly popular champion to exit at the height of her powers is not the way it usually goes. After all, there’d already been one Barty sabbatical. From late 2014 until early 2016, she’d taken time away from tennis. Upon returning to the WTA, Barty commenced the cycle of excellence that eventually took her to the top.


The even more sad factor was that the way Barty went about winning matches was drastically different from just about anyone in tennis. No matter what the era, usually how it goes at the highest levels of tennis is that a narrow set of tools dominate, from the thundering groundstrokes of today to the once-prevalent serve-and-volley style dubbed “The Big Game.” No matter what the tactic, from a fan standpoint, the similarities of any prevailing and pragmatic tactic can make for dreary viewing.

But to watch Barty was to witness a rainbow of possibilities, a captivating synthesis of body and mind, harmoniously working their way through one opponent after another. She deployed a broad spectrum of shots, spins, and speeds. Rare in contemporary tennis, Barty was comfortable and adept in all areas of the court. A big forehand. A slice backhand. A clipped volley. A dart-like serve. Stealth-like movement, propelled by superb balance and agility. Barty also knew how to dig in when pressed.

The last match of her career was an exemplary showcase of the Barty palette. Versus Danielle Collins in the 2022 Australian Open final, Barty won the first set, 6-3. But in the early stages of the second set, Collins’ exceptionally powerful groundstrokes clicked into a higher gear.

“Danielle breaks to lead 5-1, turns to her team and screams, ‘Come on!” writes Barty in her recently published memoir, My Dream Time: A memoir of tennis and retirement. “It’s loud – very loud. It’s the first time she really tries to assert any positive energy into the match. I’m a little confused as to why she chooses this moment to impose herself, as she’s all over me. It’s unnecessary. The crowd sense this and get a little fired up.” Barty fought back and soon the two entered a tiebreaker. Barty dominated, closing it out 7-2 with a crosscourt forehand passing shot. Handed the champion’s trophy by her idol, Evonne Goolagong, Barty had once again proven what made her an Australian tennis legend.

But Barty was also a rarity in another way: an Australian homebody. Time was when the great Australian tennis players relished the chance to leave their homeland, trek around the world for a lengthy spell and saturate themselves in the global tennis experience. Thirty minutes after Barty won Wimbledon in 2021, I spoke with her compatriot, Rod Laver. “When you’re out there on the road like that, you’re around tennis all the time,” said Laver. “So you better ask yourself: Do you like the game? Do you like to compete? Do you enjoy competition? Let’s hope so.”

For Barty, though, travel was a mixed blessing; even, for a couple of years, a famine and feast-like experience. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, Barty didn’t play a single match after January. Twelve months later, with Australia in lockdown, Barty and her team opted to leave the country in March and not return until after the US Open. This was similar to the length of time Laver and his mates had spent away from home.

But travel had been very different in Laver’s time. Though the traveling tennis circus was nowhere near as financially lucrative as today’s, many other aspects of it were far less enervating. Air travelers headed straight to the gate. Not until 1973 were metal detectors installed at airports in America. Nor, of course, was there COVID and the attendant stress of treacherous travel and repeated testing. By the time Barty finished her ’21 swing, she’d been tested nearly 70 times. Upon returning to Australia in October, Barty’s request to quarantine herself at home was denied. “For travelers coming back,” Barty’s coach, Craig Tyzzer said that fall, “if you’re an Australian, they don’t make it easy. You can’t get flights, it’s ridiculously expensive and you’ve got to do two weeks quarantine in a hotel where you can’t open windows.”

As Barty writes, “I see now that all sport is mountain climbing,” comparing life as a tennis to what she viewed as the endless and frustrating efforts of the mythical Sisyphus. “Professional athletes serve that same life sentence – pushing that same rock up that same hill – only we hand this punishment to ourselves.” By the end of ’21, a world-weary Barty had had enough. The only trick was how to orchestrate the best possible exit.


For the second time last December, Barty was the recipient of the Don Award. It is deemed to be the highest honor in Australian sport.

For the second time last December, Barty was the recipient of the Don Award. It is deemed to be the highest honor in Australian sport.

Barty had hoped to retire following a March ’22 Billie Jean King Cup tie scheduled to take place in Brisbane. The plan called for Australia to play Slovakia in a qualifying round. But then, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia was banned from Billie Jean King Cup. Australia, as the highest ranked of the qualifying teams, filled that spot in the main draw and was automatically advanced to November’s finals in Glasgow. “And just like that,” writes Barty, “my career is over.”

Since retiring, Barty married longtime partner Garry Kissick last July and this January announced she was pregnant. Of course, the possibility remains that she might opt to return. I’ll leave that kind of prediction to others.

The very structure of the Barty memoir reveals much about her state of mind and perhaps even provides a glimpse into why she retired so young. Most celebrity memoirs tell the tale chronologically, a forward and increasing progression from childhood to glory. But, akin to her multi-layered tennis game, Barty’s flows back and forth between current glory days (and their struggles) and her youthful years of toil (and their rewards). “Bullrings and Baguettes,” the chapter on Barty’s 2019 title run at Roland Garros is followed “The Detroit of Belgium,” a look back at Barty when she was competing as a 15-year-old. The result of this cross-cutting through Barty’s quarter-century on earth is a heightened awareness of the woven braids of time and tennis that comprise her journey; most poignantly, the toll tennis has taken on her soul. We who love the game wanted more from Barty. But she’d already had plenty.