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Ash Barty’s retirement not really hard to fathom

AP – At first glance, Ash Barty’s retirement from tennis might be hard to fathom.

She is still only 25, after all. And she’s been thriving with a racket in her hands lately: number in the WTA rankings for 114 consecutive weeks, the champion at two of the past three Grand Slam tournaments, an 11-0 record this season.

So, to some, it seems natural to ask: Why stop now?

But Barty made clear, both in her announcement via social media on Wednesday and in other things she’s said and done over time, that she learned to measure success and fulfillment in ways that are uncommon – and certainly have little to do with the number beside her name or how many trophies reside in her home.

Listen, for example, to what the Australian said during an interview with the Associated Press in March 2019, back before she had won any of her trio of major singles championships, before she had ranked inside the Top 10, and three years before telling the world she was ready to stop for good.

“I know if I keep doing things the right way and keep going about things the right way, enjoying the process and the journey, those results will come. If they don’t, it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “And if they do, I can sit back, celebrate and just enjoy them.”

It was believable then. Her latest news is believable now, even if there surely are folks wondering whether this will stick. Barty already did take a break years ago before returning, but she said the feeling is different this time. What’s key to remember is Barty does things her way, on her timetable, and for her own reasons, and there is nothing wrong with that, as much as fans of tennis would like to see her continue competing.

Barty’s style of play was unique and varied, reliant on a mix of backhand slices and big serves and forehands. In an era when many players will speak quite plainly about not worrying about what is happening on the other side of the net, Barty was as adept at analysing, dissecting and dismantling an opponent’s game as anyone.

Yet Barty is so self-aware, so focussed on what’s best for her, that it makes perfect sense that she would head for the exit at the height of her powers rather than in any state of decline.

Barty was a prodigy who won a Wimbledon junior title at 15 in 2011, left the tour for nearly two years in 2014 because of burnout and the burden of expectations, played pro cricket, and later discussed how that hiatus made her a better player and person.

She always wanted to win Wimbledon, and did last year. She always wanted to win the Australian Open, and did in January.

There were other on-court triumphs, millions of dollars in prize money and endorsements, and icon status at home.

“I know that people may not understand it, and I’m OK with that,” she said. “Because I know that for me, Ash Barty the person has so many dreams that she wants to chase after that don’t necessarily involve travelling the world, being away from my family, being away from my home.”

Makes perfect sense.