It’s a pity they don’t make those old Swan Lager ‘They Said You’d Never Make It’ TV ads anymore. Ashleigh Barty would be a perfect subject.
When the 25-year-old world number one walked out onto centre court to face Czech Karolina Pliskova in the Wimbledon women’s final at 11pm AEST on Saturday night, she wasn’t just vying for one of the most prestigious titles in sport.
She was once thumbing her nose at the doubters who said she didn’t have what it takes to get to the top of the tennis totem pole.
Sure, everyone always loved Ash – how could you not? She was so nice, so sweet … so short.
But according to those who professed to know, those are three things that you don’t necessarily want on your CV if you are trying to make it as a professional tennis player.
Didn’t she prove them wrong.
World number one Ash Barty (pictured at Wimbledon on Thursday) beat Czech Karolina Pliskova in the Wimbledon women’s final to emulate her idol Evonne Goolagong
Critics once doubted the world champ would ever make it but she’s since won two grand slam titles (Barty pictured after winning the 2019 French Open)
I remember watching her in action on the back courts at the 2014 French Open.
She’d won the junior Wimbledon final in 2011 and made it to the final of three Grand Slam doubles events with partner Casey Dellacqua in 2013, but when I saw her at Roland Garros 12 months later the wheels had well and truly fallen off.
She was beaten 2-6, 1-6 by Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in the first round of singles and in the doubles she and Dellacqua did even worse, losing 0-6, 1-6 to Italian pair Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.
It was during the Cornet match that I turned to the veteran tennis writer sitting next to me and said, ‘She’s never going to make it, is she?’
‘No,’ he said shaking his head sadly. ‘She hasn’t got it’.
It was an easy conclusion to jump to. Covering the European circuit that year I got to see the power game and intimidating physique of women’s number one Serena Williams up close. That little Ash Barty could even consider one day climbing Williams’ lofty pedestal was unthinkable.
Likewise, the latest generation of Eastern European players who seemed to float around courts with their long limbs, model looks and hard to pronounce names seemed to be of another species to Our Ash.
What I didn’t know at that time – what no-one outside her closest confidantes did – was that Ash was struggling mightily with the mental strain of life on the circuit.
Barty is seen with her boyfriend Garry Kissick. The tennis star met Kissick back in 2016 when he was working at a golf pro shop
Relaxed and rejuvenated, Barty returned to tennis in 2016 after taking a break from the sport and cracked the world top 100 for the first time, rising to number 17 within 12 months (pictured is Barty at the 2019 Newcombe Medal ceremony in 2019)
Just 17 years old, she missed her family and pets back in Ipswich, Queensland. Paris, London and New York might sound like exciting places to be, but not when all you see is a hotel room and a tennis court.
She’d had enough. She wanted to quit and go back home. So she did. Quietly, without any fuss. No press conference, social media announcement or tell-all interview like some of sport’s highest profile athletes when wanting the world to know about whatever it is they are doing. Just a one-way ticket to Australia where she dropped her bags and racquets, picked up her fishing rod and headed down the creek.
A mentor during that time was her childhood idol and fellow indigenous flag bearer, seven-time Grand Slam winner Evonne Goolagong-Cawley. Both keen anglers, they spent hours fishing in Queensland waterways and talking together as Barty recovered her health.
When she did return to sport it wasn’t tennis, it was cricket. She’d never played before, but thought it might be fun. She joined a local club and after two matches was signed by the Brisbane Heat Big Bash side. In her second game she hit 63 not-out off 60 balls.
At the age of 17 Barty took a break from tennis and dabbled in other sports like cricket and golf
Barty is seen playing in a Juniors match at the 2011 Australian Open. Fast forward a few years and Barty is now the world number one
Not that cricket was the only non-tennis sport that she tried her hand at during her self-enforced lay-off. Golf took her fancy as well, as did the trainee professional at Brisbane’s Brookwater course.
Barty met her boyfriend-to-be Garry Kissick in the pro-shop when she showed up to book a round in 2016. Kissick is now a permanent part of her support team as she travels on the circuit, and plays a major role in keeping her relaxed and buoyant on the road.
The part that Kissick and a small select group of other support staff led by coach Craig Tyzzer play in Barty’s mental preparation cannot be under-estimated. Praising them on Thursday after her semi-final win she said, ‘All the opportunities I get, I get to do it with the people I love, people who have given so much of their time to help me be the best that I can be.
‘We laugh every day, we smile every day through sometimes the heartache but the best moments as well. I want to share it with them and being able to lighten the mood is, I think, the most important thing in my day really. Just coming out here and having fun.’
Kissick has also done wonders for her golf game. Under his tutelage she dropped her handicap from 10 to four and won the 2020 Brookwater club championship when she chose not to compete overseas during the height of the Covid pandemic.
Her form with the irons even attracted praise from Tiger Woods during the 2019 Presidents Cup in Melbourne.
Seeing her hit a wedge shot in a promotional event before the tournament, the 15-time Major winner remarked, ‘Whoa, she’s got a great swing. Are you kidding me?’
Barty kisses her trophy after defeating Marketa Vondrousova in the ladies singles final at the 2019 French Open
Barty is seen alongside Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Bernard Tomic at the Newcombe Medal Awards at Melbourne Park in December, 2010
Relaxed and rejuvenated, Barty returned to tennis in 2016 and cracked the world top 100 for the first time, rising to number 17 within 12 months. By the end of June 2019, she had won the French Open and was ranked world number one.
Not that even all that has been enough for some. To hear them tell it, she is at the top of the game by default, just keeping the seat warm until a real champion comes along. The women’s game is devoid of talent at the moment, they say. Barty’s just lucky that she didn’t have to take on Serena at her peak. The disruption caused by Covid meant the players snapping at her heels couldn’t get to her. If Naomi Osaka hadn’t pulled out of Roland Garros and Wimbledon she would be the number one now and Barty would be back down in the field where she belongs.
There are those who say she has a suspect serve, that she lacks a killer instinct. Most of all, that she lacks star quality, that she is boring.
Too nice, too sweet. Too short.
Tell that to Ajla Tomljanovic and Angelique Kerber who she blew off the court in the quarter and semi to make tonight’s final.
Tell it to her business manager who has seen her win over $25 million in her career on court and has sponsors from Vegemite to Jaguar lining up to have her endorse their products.
Tell it to the rapturous fans at Wimbledon who soaked up every moment of Thursday’s match and will be just as enthralled tonight.
You can even tell it to Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, a replica of whose scallop-hemmed dress Barty will be wearing tonight to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her idol’s 1971 Wimbledon win.
In fact you can tell it to just about anyone but Ashleigh Barty. Don’t waste your breath, because she doesn’t care.
Win or lose tonight, she’ll still be having fun.
Barty has a net worth of around $25million and sponsorships from Vegemite and Jaguar