Barty trivia no one will know
If it ever becomes a trivia question, no one will have a clue.
Who was Ash Barty’s doubles partner in the first tournament of her comeback to tennis in 2016?
There’s a six-year age difference, so we hadn’t really crossed paths. But everyone had heard about her, and I remember seeing her win junior Wimbledon. She looked so young, but she was unbelievable. She had such a unique game. Still does.
So when Ash approached me to play doubles when she was first coming back, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Of course!’ There was absolutely no way I’d say no to that.
It was an awesome opportunity for me, and I think it was pretty cool to be able to share that week with her.
It was an ITF $25,000 at the State Tennis Centre in Perth, which was pretty much my second home. Ash was just so chilled. Even on the court we’d talk about anything and everything. Maybe the fact we didn’t put any pressure on each other was the reason we played so well.
In the final against Alison Bai and Abby Myers, we were 8-3 down in the super tiebreak and came back and won 10-8. I’m pretty sure Ash did all the work!
There were times where she would pull out a shot and I’d be like, ‘Are you kidding me? Where the hell did that come from?’ And she’d just laugh it off like it was normal. And it probably was, because she’s just that talented!
I think she was literally hitting for only two weeks beforehand or something after not playing for about 18 months. It was insane. Amazing.
It’s really cool to say I’ve had a tiny weeny part at the start of her comeback story. I’m probably going to hold on to it more than she will, but it’s so cool, and I’m just so grateful for what she did for me at the end of mine.
‘People only see what’s on TV’
I beat Simona Halep to reach the Australian Open girls’ singles final in 2008, the same year Bernard Tomic won the boys’ title. I also won a round in the main draw singles and the mixed.
It was a real whirlwind, because none of that was really expected. I don’t think I was ready for it, and I think I paid for it later, unfortunately.
A few hours after the girls’ final I was on a plane to Thailand to play Fed Cup, it was all so super quick, and I don’t think I took a moment to just step back and reflect and say, ‘Hey, that was pretty good, you can celebrate that’. I was in the mentality of ‘ok, next; I didn’t win, so I’ve got to keep doing better’, and I think it kind of caught up with me.
I reached a point just before my 21st birthday where mentally I wasn’t in a great space. I tend to feel like I let a lot of people down – I’m a real people-pleaser, and it really hit me.
I thought, ‘I really need to step away and explore some other things’, and I didn’t actually think I was going to return to the game. So I got right into my studies in health science – I’m passionate about mental health and hope to eventually work in athlete wellbeing – and did a bit of hospitality work waiting tables at the old Witches’ Cauldron in Subiaco. Now that was something completely different.
But I missed tennis. I missed that competitiveness in everyday life, so I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll give it one more crack’. I played singles for a couple of years and then I decided I was going to transition more into doubles – mostly because of the financial side.
I was getting more success in doubles, and when you’re playing the WTA Tour you obviously get rewarded a lot more than if you were playing on the ITF circuit, so I decided that if I was to continue in the game that was where I needed to go.
I’m really glad I because I definitely enjoyed the different skills that were involved with doubles and the training was so different, so I guess it created a different kind of love. And to be able to share it with someone was really cool.
A lot of people don’t realise how hard it is to make a living in tennis if you’re outside, say, the top 200. People only see what’s on TV or what’s on social media, the good stuff, but there’s so many players who are putting everything on the line to get success.
There are stories of people sleeping in cars, really living on the bare minimum to get to tournaments and get some success and keep their dream alive. It’s not an easy gig.
I got to No.52 in doubles, but my peak singles ranking was 132, back in 2008. I think people were expecting more, and there’s a part of me that feels maybe I could have utilised my game a little better during that period.
But if I look back at where I came from – I grew up in Williams, which is a small country town in WA of about 400 people – there’s no way on earth I would have thought I would have achieved what I have.
There’s a part of me that is a little bit like, ‘Oh, maybe it didn’t quite go maybe to plan’, but maybe it was supposed to be this way. I’m content now with what I’ve achieved after thinking for quite some time about my decision to stop.
I knew in the middle of 2019. It was a really tough year for me with injury and illness and it really hit home that it was time. I’d given it everything and I realised my health and happiness means more to me now. And I’m really looking forward to trying new things.
Ash was the one helping me
Getting sick with pneumonia late in the season really knocked me around. I didn’t want to finish like that. I really wanted to finish on a positive note.
So I arranged to play the Australian Open doubles with Astra Sharma, which I was super-excited about, because she’s someone I really like and admire.
I couldn’t believe it when I saw we’d been drawn to play Ash and Julia Goerges in the first round. And I really didn’t expect what happened afterwards.
I was a bit embarrassed when Ash said on court afterwards that I helped her get back into tennis; I felt like she was the one helping me out there!
Kind words from @ashbarty for a dear friend. 🇦🇺🤗
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2020
The news that this is my last tournament really only got out on Thursday; before that, only a few people really close to me knew. The amount of support I got yesterday was insane. I didn’t think anyone would really notice.
I’ve had a pretty cool career but nothing like the likes of Ash Barty, obviously, so I just didn’t expect her to give me the moment that she did on Melbourne Arena and it’s something I’m going to remember for a very long time.
I’m also super-grateful for the mixed doubles wildcard, and looking forward to playing on Saturday with Matt Ebden. Both Astra and Matt are WA people I’ve grown up playing with, so it’s pretty special.
I don’t think the fact I’m retiring will hit me for a couple of weeks, because I’m still in player mode and there’s a real buzz being around the Aussie Open.
I don’t know how I’m going to be. I think it’s going to be tough, because it’s something that I’ve known and done for so long, but I’ve got things that I really want to explore and I’m planning to keep myself pretty busy.
I’d be lying if I said my career has all been smooth sailing, because it definitely hasn’t, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to travel and meet so many different people and to have a job that has challenged me mentally and physically every day. That’s not something that many people get to do.
Tennis has been part of my life for 21 years, and I’m really grateful to have been on this ride. What happened yesterday and having Ash as part of it was kind of the icing on the cake.