Ash Barty: “I didn’t watch this year’s Wimbledon final. I’ve hit enough tennis balls in my life’ | Ash Barty

AND hours after Elena Rybakina lifted the famous Wimbledon trophy on Center Court, an interesting bet was made in another cathedral of British sport, 500 miles away. It included two giants in their fields, Kevin Pietersen and Ash Barty and amicable disagreements over whether the former world number one could be lured back to tennis following her shock retirement in March. The former England cricket captain was adamant that it would eventually happen. Barty was just as adamant that there was no chance. And so a £20 bet was made between the pair on Saturday night in St Andrews.

But if the experience of watching Barty over the years has taught us anything, it’s that the most straight shooter in the sport speaks her mind and rarely loses — no matter what. And in his first big interview since he retired from tennis at the peak of her powers at the age of 25, the former first lady of the sport is making it clear that she is not for turning. Not when he’s having the time of his life traveling the world, playing golf and constantly checking items off his bucket list.

“I don’t regret retiring,” he says. “Not one. I knew it was the right time for me. It was what I wanted to do. And I know a lot of people might still not understand that. But I hope they respect that in the sense that it was my decision. And yes, it was incredible. It was everything I ever wanted.”

Her appetite for a new life path was evident in her choices last weekend. Instead of watching the men’s and women’s singles finals at Wimbledon, she honed her golf game before teeing off at the Old Course in St Andrews as part of the celebrity-packed event. 150. Open, which starts on Thursday. Why cling to the past when the future offers such limitless possibilities?

“I didn’t watch this year’s Wimbledon final,” she says. “Sorry to disappoint you. I was obviously wrapped up Ons and Elena, who are both great girls. And of course it was amazing to see Nick, who I’ve known for over a dozen years, make it to the finals.

Bradley Simpson, Ash Barty, Kevin Pietersen and Kathryn Newton pose for a photo at Swilcan Bridge during the Celebrity Fourball ahead of the 150th Open at St Andrew
Bradley Simpson, Ash Barty, Kevin Pietersen and Kathryn Newton pose for a photo on Swilcan Bridge during the Celebrity Fourball ahead of the 150th Open at St Andrews. Photograph: Stuart Kerr/R&A/Getty Images

“But since I’ve retired I’ve probably watched as many games as I did when I was playing, which was little to none. Sometimes we let it be background noise, but it’s very rare that I sit down and watch a game from start to finish with some interest. I’ve hit enough tennis balls in my life. I don’t need to see other people hit them.”

When photos of her playing at St Andrews went viral on Sunday, a more excitable internet went into overdrive, with some even speculating that Barty – who has a handicap of four – could be considering a career in a third professional sport after tennis. and cricket. According to her, that won’t happen.

“Golf is a hobby and always will be,” he says. “I know what it takes to get to the top of any sport, and I don’t have the drive and desire to do the work required. And to be honest, I play golf for a good time and for a good walk with the people I love. I don’t care if I shoot 70 or 100.”

But what about the news that she has already won a local tournament in Brisbane since hanging up her racket? He starts laughing. “The internet went crazy over it. It was just a Saturday competition at home. I play it every week. I don’t win every week and when I do it’s rare. It’s just a very relaxed event with my girlfriends and my mum!”

Still, her love for the game is evident as she conveys in hushed tones what it was like to stand on the first tee at St Andrews. “It was a real opportunity to play golf at home under championship conditions. I hit some good pars, I hit some good tee shots, and I also hit some wild shots that went into areas of the golf course that you’ve probably never seen on TV before. It was just an amazing experience.”

A particular highlight was saving par on the opening hole after flirting with the famous Swilcan Burn, which guards the first green. “I hit a horrendous second shot – a piece of skull with an eight iron – and he got a little burn and popped up again. And I managed to chip-up and save par. So I got a bit lucky along the way, but I finished about six times, so it wasn’t too bad.”

She also spent time watching Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas practice, absorbing how other legends apply the final coat of polish to their preparations. “It’s incredible to see those guys doing their thing,” he says. “I like to see how other professional athletes prepare and train, how they understand their game and the areas they are working on.”

Ash Barty tees off during the Celebrity Fourball ahead of the 150th Open at St Andrews
Ash Barty tees off during the Celebrity Fourball ahead of the 150th Open at St Andrews. Photograph: Stuart Kerr/R&A/Getty Images

Did you catch the quick word? “No, no, no,” he replies quickly. “I stood aside to give them the space they needed because I knew it was leading up to a big event.

It’s the nature of professional sports to move on even when someone as captivating and popular as Barty retires. But her decision to leave when she added Australian Open 2022 to her Wimbledon 2021 and French Open 2019 titles was a mic drop that still leaves a deep reverberation.

Such was Barty’s dominance of the women’s game at the time, she was the top player on the WTA circuit for 114 consecutive weeks – a run bettered only by Steffi Graf, Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova. But it was her relatability that helped her strike an even deeper chord with the wider public. According to Barty, that hasn’t changed even when she slips into blissful anonymity. “I like to think I’m approachable. I’m an ordinary person that people can come up to and say ‘G’day’ to and have a chat with.’

So is she missing something in tennis? “I sure miss seeing my friends. We spent so much time together and suddenly I live in another corner of the world. But retirement was a really smooth transition. Instead of spending a few hours on the practice court every day, I get into different routines. And because I knew it was coming for a while, there wasn’t a lot of editing.”

Ash Barty poses for a photograph during a practice round ahead of the 150th Open at St Andrews Old Course.
“I play golf for fun and for a good walk with people I like. I don’t care if I shoot 70 or 100,” says Ash Barty. Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/R&A/Getty Images

But she insists the future of tennis remains in good hands, especially with world number one Iga Swiatek leading a new generation of young stars, including Britain’s Emma Raducanu and now Rybakina. “Iga is an incredible talent, an exceptional person and a beautiful girl,” says Barty. “I love her and her team and I couldn’t be more proud that she has taken over the No. 1 position because she plays the sport the right way and has so much energy and charisma.

“But the depth of current women’s tennis is also great. We went from one or two players dominating to more unpredictability. And it’s not because the tour is weak. In fact, it’s because the tour is so powerful. Everyone in that group of 40 to 50 is so exceptionally good week in and week out that they could all be top 10 players.”

For the past few months, Barty has been working on the Little Ash series of illustrated children’s books about school, sports, friendship and family; as well as a memoir, My Dream Time: A Memoir of Tennis and teamwork. She also played golf with Michael Phelps in New Jersey and plans to attend many other sporting events in the coming months – starting with the Open.

Sign up for The Recap, our weekly editor’s tip email.

“I have the opportunity to live my childhood dreams and I couldn’t be more grateful,” she says. “I’m just trying to roll with it and enjoy it.

Sounds like Pietersen is a huge chance to lose the retirement bet, I say. “The bet was very friendly and very soft,” he says with a laugh. “I’ll make sure KP and I get some more time on the golf course. And maybe instead of putting a little £20 on my tennis career, we’ll put them on it.’

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.