Few people get to go out on top. And Ash Barty deserves every accolade being served up to her.
But her contribution to Australia should be recognised well beyond the tennis court, or even the cricket pitch, where her star is measurable.
Less quantifiable is her influence elsewhere.
She’s a genuinely decent person. She’s a role model for tennis. She’s been able to, in her quiet ‘Ash’ way, raise awareness around First Nations issues, and provide hope to Australia’s Indigenous children.
Through her own circumstance, she has gifted a subtle focus on mental health, and the need for balance – by quitting tennis when it stopped her smiling, and taking it up again, when she knew she wanted it.
She’s been able to deflect attention away from her individual talent to identify the role of a team in success, never letting go the opportunity to acknowledge those off court who have helped deliver victory.
But it’s another message that every one of our teens, and maybe us too, needs to hear.
Ash Barty, if you decode Thursday’s press conference and her delightful Instagram announcement with Casey Dellacqua, practises what she preaches and her happiness is not dependent upon results.
Today, in homes across Australia, Ash Barty needs to be made the pin-up choice for teen girls who have their head stuck in books chasing a number, believing it will dictate their success. Boys too.
If we could just move the dial there, a tiny bit, the impact on our teens’ mental health would be measurable.
If we could genuinely convince our teens that a single ATAR number will not be the arbiter of their life’s successes and failures; that happiness doesn’t come from winning everything always. That a loss is a mighty step towards victory.
As adults and educators and parents and policy makers, Ash Barty’s goodbye to tennis provides an impetus to do that.
She’s clear on her message: Happiness doesn’t come from the accolades she’s earned. It doesn’t come from hoarding trophies or winning the biggest number of grand slams. Nor does it arrive in the big fat cheques she’s banked along the way.
Tennis is what she does. Not who she is. And she has been ingenious in separating those things.
She wanted to win Wimbledon, and she did. But it wasn’t the call to win it again. She wanted to win the Australian Open, in Melbourne, on home ground. And she did.
But the need to chase titles and rankings has never been part of her make up.
She’s Ash Barty. A decent chick. A brilliant athlete. An excited bride-to-be. A part-time golfer. A new home owner. The owner of three lucky pups. A damn fine cricketer. A partner. A daughter. A sister. And the daggy, Disney-loving aunt.
That’s Ash Barty. And she knows it.
Even in tennis, she’s never been a one-trick pony. She plays across the court, despite being only 1.66 metres tall, she is a first-rate server and has a wide variety of shots.
An all-rounder in sport, and an all-rounder in life.
Mark my words. We will see her more doing good stuff for others, capitalising on that decency and sportsmanship that every single competitor has saluted.
We’ll see her using her influence to help Australia’s Indigenous children.
We’ll see her lending her support to those causes that need it, and resonate with her.
Those close to her are wearing huge smiles today at the idea of spending more time with her.
Those who will share in her wedding plans.
Her parents, who only live a stone’s throw away from her and her fiancé, Garry Kissock, and her sisters. Her niece and nephew can expect more sleepovers, and the iPad will be trained on The Lion King, more than any Wimbledon re-runs.
Those who marvel at how she’s only ever wanted to be herself; ’the girl next door’ and who has lived in the same spot in south-east Queensland her whole life.
Those who will see her more often laughing, while walking the Greg-Norman-inspired golf course at Brookwater, just up the road from Brisbane.
And hopefully, our teens who will learn that success come from playing their own game, not counting marks they missed along the way.
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