Ash Barty spills beans on secret amid record Aussie tennis feat
Ash Barty has once again shown why she is one of Australia's most beloved sporting icons, in a classy gesture for a legend of the sport during Australian tennis' night of nights. Barty on Monday night won a record fifth consecutive Newcombe Medal as the country's best tennis player of 2022, despite announcing her shock retirement in March.
Just last week, Barty won the prestigious Don Award for a second time, becoming just the third athlete to claim the gong more than once. The award, named in recognition of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame's inaugural inductee Sir Donald Bradman, is considered the highest honour in Australian sport.
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On Monday night she claimed another accolade, despite walking away from the sport in March, while just 25 years of age. Few could argue with her status as Australia's best tennis player of 2022, however, considering just how good her start to the year was.
"I stand here very proudly knowing that I absolutely fulfilled every ounce that I could to this to this beautiful sport and it brought me so much more than I could have ever dreamed," Barty said. "It's obviously an amazing way to cap off what has been an incredible journey," she added.
While the night certainly belonged to Barty, such is humble and selfless nature of the champion from Queensland that she wanted to share a piece of it with Evonne Goolagong Cawley - the Indigenous Aussie tennis legend who has inspired a generation of players such as Barty to chase their dreams.
Goolagong surprised Barty after appearing at the Australian Open to present the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup to this year's champion, in scenes that captured the hearts of a nation. Barty was overwhelmed at the time after receiving the trophy from her mentor and long-time friend, and a woman who had won it four times herself, from 1974 - 1977.
On Monday night, Barty revelled in the opportunity to return the surprise to her idol, after presenting Goolagong with the Spirit of Tennis award for her charitable work and contribution to the sport. The award was recognition for her work with the Evonne Goolagong Foundation, which works to improve health and educational outcomes for young Indigenous people, using tennis as a vehicle.
Barty revealed that she had advanced notice about the award, but kept it under wraps so Goolagong had no idea she was going to be presented with it. The joy on Barty's face was there for all to see as she revelled in the honour of being able to recognise her fellow Aussie tennis great.
"I was privileged and honoured and humbled to be asked to present it," Barty told reporters. "But it was a genuine surprise for her, so it was great.
"I knew how excited people would be for Evonne, because not often does she get recognised enough for the amount of work that she does. I know that we all appreciate it but sometimes it's nice just to get that little bit more of an appreciation from the greater public and knowing that she's had such a positive impact."
Goolagong Cawley, a Wiradjuri woman, was among those who offered Barty support during her well-publicised break from tennis after the 2014 US Open. Ngarigo woman Barty later paid a poignant tribute to the tennis legend via the dress she wore throughout her triumphant 2021 Wimbledon campaign.
Barty delighted in the recognition of Goolagong Cawley's off-court impact; a feat she hopes to emulate. "She is an amazing human being," Barty added. "Her impact arguably off the court has been greater than on the court, which when you look at her accolades and in her career is near impossible to do and she has managed to do it.
"The way that she's impacted the game in a positive way is certainly something that I would love to emulate now that I'm finished up and have that opportunity to give back to the sport again."
For her part, Goolagong Cawley had no doubt her "really wonderful friend" Barty's next chapter, following her shock retirement in March, would be something special.
"She wasn't just a great tennis player, but a great person on and off the court and I love her forever," she said. "I just wanted to say how proud I am to be here tonight.
"Getting this award was a real surprise, I must admit, and from someone who I just absolutely adore, as a person and a player - ex-player, I should say. Who knows what will be next - she's such an adventurer."
Ash Barty record caps off incredible 2022
Barty's fifth Newcombe Medal came off the back of an incredible summer that culminated with victory over American Danielle Collins at Melbourne Park. The drought-breaking Australian Open title - Australia's first in 44 years - came via a rare seven-match grand slam campaign where the Aussie champion didn't drop a single set.
In a memorable January, Barty recorded 11 singles wins and four doubles victories. She also claimed the Adelaide International singles title and combined with Storm Hunter (nee Sanders) to sweep the doubles trophy.
Barty has now added to her previous Newcombe Medal triumphs in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021, after Covid-19 wiped out the 2020 edition of Australian tennis's night of nights.
The 26-year-old has twice shared the honour but has now won her third outright medal. Nick Kyrgios, Ajla Tomljanovic, Alex de Minaur, Wimbledon doubles champions Matt Ebden and Max Purcell and Australia's Billie Jean King Cup standout Hunter were the other nominees.
Barty's fifth Newcombe Medal caps off a brilliant career, which included three singles grand slams: the 2019 French Open, 2021 Wimbledon and her Melbourne Park triumph, as well as the 2018 US Open doubles title with CoCo Vandeweghe.
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