OF all the talk of retirements at the top of tennis in recent months, no one would have put money on Ash Barty hanging up her racket before Roger Federer.

Or before Serena Williams, or her sister Venus, or even Rafa Nadal who, at the age of 35, is a decade older than the Australian.

In what has to be one of the most unforeseen and surprising retirements in sporting history, Barty last week announced that despite being world No.1, despite being the most dominant female player in recent years and despite being reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, she was walking away from tennis.

This is something we rarely see.

Elite sport is littered with athletes who cling on too long, often grasping at the hope they can recapture the form that made them one of the greats.

Both Federer and Serena are now 40 but have not retired. 

Andy Murray has a metal hip and remains some way off the form that saw him reach the top of the rankings yet continues to fight to save his career.

At 41, Venus Williams is but a shadow of her former self, yet still turns up.

That wasn’t the life Barty wanted.

There is, of course, no right or wrong way to leave your sport, particularly for those who have made it to the top.

Barty has every right to do it how she wants and when she wants. She stressed she no longer had what it takes, neither physically nor emotionally, to remain at the top. And, she says, she has other dreams to pursue.

Who can knock her for that?

Early retirement in sport, and in women’s tennis in particular, always comes with an asterisk. Female players love a comeback, from Martina Hingis to Kim Clijsters to Justine Henin, there has been a glut of top players reneging on their retirement pledge.

And while Barty herself has said never say never about a return, there is a different feel to her retirement than almost any other.

She is one of those rare beasts who seem content with their decision.

Barty has only won three Grand Slams and would certainly rack up more were she to continue but perhaps she is mindful of Serena’s career, and how she has been plagued by her desire to break records.

For several years, since her last major title over five years ago, in fact, Williams has been attempting to reach 24 Grand Slam singles titles, which would see her match Margaret Court.

She has failed to fulfil her goal and it has been clear to see the strain this has put on her.

That she is now in her 40s, with a family and a portfolio of business interests outside tennis to enjoy when she leaves the sport, yet still harbours the need to continue her quest for more majors is in stark contrast to Barty and is perhaps a shame. 

Barty’s career can teach many athletes a valuable lesson; one of self-care and self-preservation.

She had already taken a break from the sport – at the age of 18 she stepped away for a year – but this time it appears much more permanent. 

The Australian refuses to attach her self-worth to results; this is almost unheard of in elite sport.

With the entire point of elite sport being to win, of course winning matters. But Barty seems to possess something of a superpower whereby winning and happiness were able to exist separately.

That, perhaps, will be her greatest legacy.

Proving that sport does not need to be your entire life, even if you are world No.1.

We have seen the toll tennis has taken on the likes of Naomi Osaka; no amount of winning is surely worth enduring the distress she has clearly felt in recent months.

To be the best in sport, it has been assumed that it must be your whole life. Barty has proven this need not be true.


THE fall from grace of Dave Brailsford’s reputation over the past few years has been drastic.

From his initial god-like status, as the man who masterminded the success of both British Cycling and Team Sky, producing countless Olympic champions and several Tour de France winners, there has been quite a downturn in recent times.

His role in what has been called the “failures” of both organisations, which have endured rumours about dodgy medical practices and mistreatment of athletes, shone a new light upon someone who was once seen as being able to do no wrong.

This is relevant because of the recent suggestion that Brailsford may be returning to the front line of elite sport.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are looking for a permanent managing director and Brailsford has been tipped as one of those in line to take up the role.

This is, however, one of the problems with top-level sport.

Serious concerns were voiced about Brailsford but the fact he was able to guide both British Cycling and Team Sky to quite such phenomenal levels of success means too many are willing to overlook worries about his past.

This happens constantly. Potential success overshadows almost all else.

This has to end. There has to be an acknowledgement throughout sport that winning should not be sought at the expense of everything else.

Sadly, we are still a million years away from that becoming reality.