Ash Barty: ‘I didn’t see the Wimbledon final this year. I’ve already hit enough tennis balls in my life’ | ash barty

A Just hours after Elena Rybakina lifted the famous Wimbledon trophy on Center Court, an intriguing bet was made in another cathedral of British sport, 500 miles away. It involved two greats in their respective fields, Kevin Pietersen and Ash Barty, and a friendly disagreement over whether the former World No.1 could return to tennis following her shock retirement in March. The former England cricket captain insisted it would happen eventually. Barty was equally convinced that there was no chance. And so, on Saturday night in St. Andrews, a £20 bet was placed between the pair.

But if the experience of watching Barty over the years has taught us anything, it’s that the most direct shooter in the game says what he means and rarely loses, no matter what’s at stake. And, in her first major interview since she left tennis at the height of her powers at age 25, the former first lady of the sport makes it clear that she’s not about to hang around. Not when she’s having the time of her life traveling the world, playing golf and constantly checking off items on her wish 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 still might not get it. But I hope they respect that in the sense that it was my decision. And yeah, it’s been amazing. It’s been everything I’ve ever wanted.”

His enthusiasm for his new life path was evident in his choices last weekend. Rather than watch the Wimbledon men’s and women’s singles finals, she honed her golf game before playing on the Old Course at St Andrews as part of a celebrity invite event to mark the 150th Open, which begins on Thursday. Why cling to the past when the future offers such limitless opportunities?

“I didn’t watch the Wimbledon finals this year,” he says. “Sorry to disappoint. Obviously I had a crush on Ons and Elena, who are two brilliant girls. And it was obviously amazing to see Nick, who I’ve known for over a dozen years, make it to the final.

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

“But since I’ve retired, I’ve probably seen as many games as when I was playing, which was close to none. Occasionally we do have it as background noise, but it’s very rare that I sit down and watch a game from start to finish with any interest. I hit him enough tennis balls in my life. I don’t need to see others beating them too.”

When photographs of her playing at St Andrews went viral on Sunday, the internet’s most excited went into overdrive, with some people even speculating that Barty, who is down four, might consider a career in a third professional sport. , after tennis. and cricket That, makes it clear, is not going to happen.

“Golf is a hobby and always will be,” she says. “I know what it takes to get to the top of any sport, and I don’t have the desire or want to do the work required. And the truth is that I play golf to have a good time and take a good walk with the people I love. If I roll a 70 or I roll a 100, I don’t care.”

But what about the reports that he has already won a local tournament in Brisbane since he hung up his racket? She starts laughing. “The internet has gone crazy over it. It was just a Saturday draft at home. I play it every week. I don’t win every week and when I do it’s a rarity. It’s just a very relaxed event with my friends and my mother!”

However, his love of the game is obvious when he recounts what it was like to stand on the first tee at St Andrews in a low voice. “It was a real pinch moment to play in the home of golf in championship conditions. I made some good pars, hit some good drives and also hit some wild shots that went to areas of the golf course that you’ve probably never seen on TV before. It was just an amazing experience.”

The highlight was saving par on the opening hole after flirting with the famous Swilcan Burn that protects the first green. “I did a horrible second hit, a little bit of skull with an eight iron, and it went into the little burn and came back out. And I managed to chip up and saved the pair. So I was a little bit lucky along the way, but I finished around six, so it wasn’t too bad.

He also spent time watching Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas practice, absorbing how other legends apply a final layer of shine to their preparations. “It’s amazing to see those guys doing their thing,” she says. “I love seeing how other professional athletes prepare and practice, how they understand their game and the areas they work on.”

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

Did you catch a quick word? “No, no, no,” she replies quickly. “I stood by to give them the space they needed, knowing that he was preparing for a big event.”

It’s the nature of professional sports that it keeps going, even when someone as compelling and popular as Barty retires. But his decision to walk away from it, having added the 2022 Australian Open to his 2021 Wimbledon and 2019 French Open titles, was a mic drop that still leaves a deep reverberation.

Such was Barty’s dominance of the women’s game at the time, that she had been ranked the WTA’s No. 1 player for 114 consecutive weeks, a streak surpassed only by Steffi Graf, Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova. But it was identifying with her that helped strike an even deeper chord with the general public. That, Barty says, hasn’t changed even as she’s slipped into gleeful anonymity. “I like to think of myself as accessible. I’m just a normal person that people can come to and say ‘Good morning’ and have a chat.”

So is there anything you miss in tennis? “I definitely miss seeing my teammates. We spend so much time together and suddenly I’m living in a different corner of the world. But retirement has been a really smooth transition. Instead of spending a few hours on the practice court every day, I get into different routines. And since I’ve known it was coming for quite some time, there wasn’t much of an adjustment.”

Ash Barty poses for a photo during a practice round before The 150th Open at St Andrews Old Course.
‘I play golf to have a good time and to go for a good walk with the people I love. If I roll a 70 or I roll a 100, I don’t care. Ash Barty says. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/R&A/Getty Images

However, he insists the future of tennis remains in good hands, especially with World No.1 Iga Swiatek leading a new generation of young stars that includes Britain’s Emma Raducanu and now Rybakina. “Iga is incredibly talented, an exceptional human being and a lovely girl,” says Barty. “I love her and her team, and I couldn’t be more proud that she took the number 1 spot, because she plays the sport the right way and has a lot of energy and charisma.

“But the depth of women’s tennis right now is also great. We went from having one or two players dominating to having more unpredictability. And that’s not because the tour is weak. In fact, it is because the tour is very strong. Everybody in the top 40 or top 50 is so exceptionally good that, week after week, they could all be in the top 10 players.”

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

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“I am having the opportunity to live out my childhood dreams and I couldn’t be more grateful,” she says. “I’m just trying to move on and enjoy it.”

Sounds like Pietersen is a great opportunity to lose that fold bet, I say. “The bet was very friendly and very smooth,” he says with a laugh. “I will make sure KP and I get more time on the golf course. And maybe instead of putting a little £20 into my tennis career, we’ll put it instead.”

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