American tennis great Billie Jean King says she was "very upset" when Ash Barty retired last year and suggested the 26-year-old made the wrong call. Barty shocked the world in 2022 when she announced her retirement from the sport at the age of 25, having just won her third grand slam title with victory in the Australian Open.
On Saturday night at Melbourne Park, Barty was given a hero's welcome back onto Rod Laver Arena, as she made her way on court to present the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup before the Australian Open women's final. Barty received a huge ovation in front of female pioneers King and the Aussie's mentor, Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
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Barty's presence no doubt brought up conflicting emotions for fans, with many ecstatic to see her at Melbourne Park again and others devastated she was not there to compete. Barty made it clear after announcing her retirement that she was focused on enjoying the next chapter of her career.
In what was a whirlwind 2022, Barty wasted no time doing just that after tying the knot with her long-time partner Garry Kissick at a secret wedding ceremony in July. Barty and her husband also announced just before the Australian Open began, that they were expecting their first child later in 2023.
King admits that while she wants to see the Aussie champion happy, she can't help but be "upset" about Barty's shock retirement. The American legend described the Aussie as “so young" and "great for the sport", before questioning her decision to go out while on top of the world.
“I was very upset she retired, she’s a great athlete but more importantly I do want her to be happy," King said. “I think people should not be encouraged to go out on top.”
King - a former World No.1 who won a staggering 39 major titles including 12 in singles - walked away from singles tennis in 1975 at the age of 32. However, the American said if she had her time again, things would have been much different.
“Bill Bradley, he was a basketball player, had a book out and I wish I’d read it before I retired,” she said. “He talked about (how) sport’s like a lifetime and you should play as long as you can... it’s like a life.”
Calls for Ash Barty to return to tennis after becoming a mum
The tennis world is still living in hope that Barty will make a comeback to the sport after starting a family. Mother-of-one Victoria Azarenka made it all the way to this year's Australian Open semi-finals and Naomi Osaka has vowed to return to the Australian Open in 2024 after having her first child later this year.
Osaka's revelation sparked calls for Barty to follow suit and keep the door open for a return to tennis. Aussie legend Todd Woodbridge even suggested the former Australian Open champions could work together on babysitting arrangements.
"Automatically it set off in my mind: 'hey a young Australian might be able to come back with her'. Maybe she can get on the phone to Ash Barty, they will both be new mums by them," Woodbridge said.
"Maybe they can set up creche and move it around the world and Ash could be back out there. I'm not sure Ash would agree with me but we'll plant the seed."
As nice as it would be to see Barty make a comeback, her comments on the matter in the past won't fill fans with hope. She recently told the New York Times: “To be honest, I think what has surprised me most is how comfortable I’ve been (in retirement).
"I think there was probably a normal fear or uncertainty in not knowing what my life would look like after tennis after being so focused. I was a bit unsure how I would deal with that because I am a person who likes to be organised.
"There was probably a little bit of fear in that, but overall, that hasn’t been an issue, a concern or a worry. What’s been surprising in a good way is that I’ve slipped quite seamlessly into this life that’s just like everyone else. Which is kind of always what I wanted.”
She has also categorically ruled out making a comeback to tennis or any other professional sport but has taken a shining to coaching the next generation. Barty been working as a mentor for fellow Queenslander Olivia Gadecki, who won her first round singles match at the Australian Open before being knocked out by Marta Kostyuk in the second round.
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