Ash Barty retires from tennis at 25; won 3 Grand Slams

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BRISBANE, Australia — Ash Barty did things on her own terms as she won three Grand Slam singles titles and spent more than two consecutive years at No. 1 in the women’s tennis rankings.

She retired on her own terms, too. At 25, just two months after winning the Australian Open title.

The announcement stunned the tennis world.

“I just know at the moment, in my heart, for me as a person, this is right,” Barty said, her voice shaky at times, during a six-minute video posted on her Instagram account Wednesday in Australia.

Saying it was time to “chase other dreams,” Barty, who announced her engagement to trainee golf professional Garry Kissick in November, said she no longer feels compelled to do what she knows is required to be the best she can be at tennis.

“It’s the first time I’ve actually said it out loud and, yeah, it’s hard to say,” Barty said during an informal interview with her former doubles partner, Casey Dellacqua. “I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top level any more. I am spent.”

This is not the first time Barty walked away from tennis: She was the Wimbledon junior champion at age 15 in 2011, presaging a promising professional career, but left the tour entirely for nearly two years in 2014 because of burnout, overwhelmed by the pressure and travel required.

She played professional cricket back home in Australia, then eventually picked up a racket once again and returned to her other sport.

Barty went on to win singles major championships on three different surfaces – on clay at the 2019 French Open, on grass at Wimbledon last year and on the hard courts of Melbourne Park in January, becoming the first Australian player in 44 years to triumph at the nation’s Grand Slam tournament.

But she hasn’t played a tournament since being presented with her Australian Open trophy by seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley, her mentor and Indigenous and Australian tennis icon, after a straight-sets final victory over Danielle Collins.

“I am so supportive of Ash that she does what makes her happy,” Goolagong Cawley told The Associated Press. “I can’t wait to see what happens in the next chapter of Ash’s life, and what helps her achieve her dreams.”

Barty won 15 tour-level titles in singles and 12 in doubles since first turning pro in 2010. She spent 121 weeks at No. 1 in the rankings, including the last 114 in a row.

Her announcement was all the more stunning from an on-court perspective given her recent run of success: Barty had won 25 of her last 26 matches and three of her past four events.

Only one other woman has walked away from the sport while atop the WTA rankings: Justine Henin was No. 1 when she retired in May 2008.

In a statement released by the WTA, CEO Steve Simon called Barty “the ultimate competitor.”

During her 21-month sabbatical from tennis as a teen, Barty played cricket with the Brisbane Heat of the Women’s Big Bash League. She returned to tennis in May 2016, playing a $50,000 ITF event in Eastbourne.

One year later, she was ranked No. 88; by the end of 2017, Barty was an established member of the top 20.

“I know I’ve done this before,” Barty said with a laugh in the retirement video, “but in a very different feeling. I’m so grateful to everything that tennis has given me. It’s given me all of my dreams, plus more, but I know that the time is right now for me to step away and chase other dreams and to, yeah, put the rackets down.”

A semifinal loss to Petra Kvitova in Doha in February was the last match she played in 2020; Barty stayed home in Australia for the balance of the season when the global pandemic emerged.

After six months on the road in 2021 and after winning five titles, including at Wimbledon, Barty ended her season abruptly after a loss to Shelby Rogers at the U.S. Open.

“Wimbledon last year changed a lot for me as a person and for me as an athlete,” Barty said. “When you work so hard your whole life for one goal – to be able to win Wimbledon, which was my dream, the one true dream that I wanted in tennis, that really changed my perspective.”

She described what she termed a “gut feeling” after Wimbledon about maybe being ready to move on, but she also described herself then as not “quite fulfilled.” Her victory at the Australian Open satisfied another gap, and Barty said she was completely aware that “my happiness wasn’t dependent on the results.”

Barty was one of the most popular players on tour, and many praised her in retirement on Wednesday.

“Ash, what can I say, you know I have tears right?” tweeted Simona Halep. “My friend, I will miss you on tour. You were different, and special, and we shared some amazing moments . . . Be happy and enjoy your life to the max.”

Madision Keys posted: “An incredible tennis player but more importantly one of the nicest people on tour.”

Alicia Molik, coach of Australia’s Billie Jean King Cup team, said Barty’s decision was “unusual, retiring at the top.”

“It’s pretty gutsy, it’s pretty noble,” Molik said. “What an athlete, what a trailblazer and what a role model.”

Andy Murray tweeted: “Happy for (at) ashbarty, gutted for tennis, what a player.”

Barty’s closing words, at least for now – she plans a media conference in Brisbane on Thursday – came at the end of the video.

“I’ll never, ever, ever stop loving tennis,” she said. “It will always be a massive part of my life but now I think it’s important I get to enjoy the next phase of my life as Ash Barty the person, not Ash Barty the athlete.”

Alycia Parks reaches 1st WTA quarterfinal in Ostrava

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — American qualifier Alycia Parks is having quite the breakthrough tournament in Ostrava.

The 21-year-old Parks earned her first win against a top-10 ranked opponent by beating fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 at the Agel Open on Thursday to reach her first WTA Tour quarterfinal.

The 144th-ranked Parks ousted former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the opening round – her first win against a top-20 opponent – and showed off her power by hitting 59 winners against Sakkari, compared to just nine for her opponent.

“I came out here not expecting anything, just playing my game, and it got me through the match,” Parks said.

Parks will next face former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who advanced via walkover when Belinda Bencic withdrew with a left foot injury.

Caty McNally, another American qualifier who is playing doubles with Parks in Ostrava, also reached the last eight by beating wild-card entry Karolina Muchova 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. McNally is also into her first WTA quarterfinal and will face top-ranked Iga Swiatek, who advanced Wednesday.

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Add Botic van de Zandschulp to the long list of players to have been schooled by Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman to reach the quarterfinals of the Astana Open.

Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn’t seriously threaten Djokovic, who is looking for a second straight indoor hardcourt title after winning in Tel Aviv last week.

“(In the) second set I think I started to read his serve better and just started swinging through the court more,” Djokovic said. “Botic is a quality tennis player. When he has time, he can hurt you, so I tried to take away that time from him and I’m very pleased with the way I played, particularly in the second.”

Djokovic will next face Karen Khachanov, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. If the 21-time Grand Slam champion gets past that one, he could come up against fellow former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The second-seeded Russian beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-3, 6-2 to move one match away from a potential rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final, when Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny his attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Medvedev will first have to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced Wednesday.