When Ash Barty quit tennis at 17 she had a career-high singles ranking of 129. The 23-year-old is now just the second Australian to be ranked number one.
Ash Barty is now the world’s number one ranked female tennis player.
The 23-year-old from the city of Ipswich in south-east Queensland, Australia, is just the second Australian woman to become world No 1 since the WTA introduced rankings in 1975. Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won 14 Grand Slam titles, spent two weeks as number one in 1976.
“I’m a little bit speechless at the moment,” Ash Barty said during the on-court trophy presentation after extending her winning streak to 12 matches at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham, UK.
“It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for me, a whirlwind year, but to be able to follow in the footsteps of Evonne, even to be mentioned in the same sentence as her is incredible.
“What she’s done for our sport, for Australians all around the world, she’s put us on the map and what she’s done for indigenous Australians as well has just been remarkable.
“You always dream of it (being world No 1) as a little kid but for it to become a reality is incredible. It’s not something that was even in my realm, this year we were aiming for top 10 and now to be where we are is a testament to all of the people around me.
“We started from scratch three and a half years ago without a ranking and now to be where we are is not only for me, but a massive, massive achievement for them.”
Ash Barty, a Wimbledon junior champion by age 15, stepped away from the sport of tennis when she was 18 – she had won AU$600,000 and had a career-high world ranking of 129 when aged 17. Feelings of homesickness and symptoms of depression had dictated she needed time away from her profession.
“I wanted to experience life as a normal teenaged girl and have some normal experiences,” she said.
She took up playing cricket for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League, and would go fishing when not playing cricket or hitting tennis balls with her long-time junior coach Jim Joyce at West Brisbane Tennis Club. Ash Barty always knew she would return to tennis.
After 17 months she returned to competitive tennis in February 2016 just before her 20th birthday. She started in doubles events on the low-level ITF circuit and then in June moved back into top-level WTA singles events. In 2017, she started the year outside the top 250 players in singles and doubles. By the end of the year she was inside the top 20 for both. She had never got into the top 100 in singles before.
She finished 2018 with the then biggest win of her career, the WTA Elite Trophy and a career-high singles ranking of 15.
At the beginning of the month, Barty won the French Open, becoming the first Australian woman to win the French Open singles title since Margaret Court in 1973 and her success at the tournament saw her rise to number two in the world rankings.
Barty’s coach Craig Tyzzer believes Barty would not have been able to have compete again at the highest level had she not walked away when she did.
“It was the best thing she ever did: stepping away from the sport,” Tyzzer said after the French Open victory.
“She wanted to reassess her life. For someone to be able to step back in and play at the level she has after three years out is pretty amazing.”
Her victory at Birmingham, UK, saw her reach the number one ranking position.
“All of this has happened pretty quickly,” Tennis Queensland President Mark Bloomfield told ABC News.
“You know to go from Top 20, to French Open, to world number one has happened in a very short space of time.
“So there will be some celebrations for sure but we haven’t worked out what they are yet.”
Former world number one, American Billie Jean King congratulated Barty on Twitter.
Congratulations to World
No. 1, @ashbar96. With incredible versatility, perseverance, and focus, Ash Barty is an inspiration to the next generation of young players in Australia. Well done! https://t.co/Sa61roCYNF
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) June 23, 2019
Kurt Fearnley, who won gold medals at the Paralympic Games in Athens and Beijing, also reflected what many sports-minded people are thinking.
Such great news! Sporting story of the year!!! https://t.co/gfi4QylH7l
— Kurt Fearnley (@kurtfearnley) June 23, 2019
Fellow Australian tennis player Daria Gavrilova tweeted:
My idol just became number 1 😭😭😭😭 https://t.co/3NmZi6ajv4
— Daria Gavrilova (@Daria_gav) June 23, 2019
Bloomfield said the ‘Barty effect’ was already in play, inspiring junior tennis athletes across the country.
Even Gladiator Russell Crowe wanted to give the Queenslander praise.
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) June 23, 2019
“The fact they have a role model now, they’ve seen one of their own start as a five-year-old, learn here in Brisbane, go right through the ranks and come out as world number one, proves that they can all do it,” he said.
“The thing that strikes me about Ash is that she’s very humble. And she doesn’t get caught up in the glamour of being on the world tour.
“She goes about her business in a fairly methodical sort of way.
“And over the last two years she’s really worked on her fitness. She’s certainly stronger, she moves around the court faster.
“And I think that, with her improved maturity, has set her apart.”
Barty is likely to be the number one seed for the Wimbledon grass court championship in London next week.