John McEnroe has lamented how Ash Barty's retirement has robbed women's tennis of a great rivalry with Iga Swiatek, likening it to when Bjorn Borg walked away from the sport at the same age. Barty announced her retirement in March last year, just two months after becoming the first Aussie in 44 years to win the Australian Open.
Barty was World No.1 at the time and looked like dominating the sport for years to come, but walked away in her prime. Polish star Swiatek has since taken over as World No.1 and cemented her status as the next dominant force in women's tennis.
Fans will never get to see the years-long rivalry that many were hoping for with Barty and Swiatek. The pair only played each other twice, with the Aussie coming out on top on both occasions. But both matches came before Swiatek really hit her stride, which saw her win 37 matches in a row in 2022.
“I think when Ash Barty retired that obviously sent shockwaves because here is a young woman at 25 that had come off winning Wimbledon, then winning the Australian Open and you think ‘Ok she’s going to the US Open in the next year and it’s just a matter of time’,” McEnroe told Eurosport.
“Obviously, I hope she’s happy, you never want to see someone walk away from it that young because then you’re like ‘what’s wrong with the women’s game that the No.1 player walked away from the game aged 25’? We had that issue too because my buddy and my rival Bjorn Borg walked away and never played a major after 25. It would hurt me, and my career, I believe."
McEnroe said the missed opportunity to pit Barty against Swiatek for years to come will hurt the women's game - and Swiatek's career. “Just not having that rival, I believe it hurts the sport," he said.
"And there’s reasons that we can’t get into, there are a lot of reasons, there’s never one reason, and there’s no one for Ash Barty either, but hopefully everyone will look at things to make sure that these women on the tour are being taken care of to the best of their ability so they feel as comfortable as possible doing their thing.”
Why John McEnroe won't be at Australian Open
McEnroe, a seven-time grand slam champion, believes Swiatek is the player to beat at the Australian Open and will add many more majors to tally. However he said the 21-year-old might need to cut her schedule back.
“I think right now she’s by far and away the best player, she’s a fantastic athlete, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young woman get slide into the corners, it reminds me of Novak quite a bit,” he added.
“So I would be surprised if she didn’t win a couple more French Opens at least, and she’s learned to play on hard courts so there’s no question that she’s the favourite in every tournament she plays. She’s got to be careful with her schedule, I don’t think she’ll go on 37-match winning streaks as much because now obviously people are going to be gunning for her more, but I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t win a bunch more majors.”
Meanwhile, McEnroe won't be in commentary at the Australian Open this year after US broadcaster ESPN decided not to bring him over. The 63-year-old has been a mainstay in the commentary box at Melbourne Park for years, but in 2023 he will be missing.
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