Ash Barty has made her first appearance at the tennis since her shock retirement from the sport last March, posing for photos with Iga Swiatek at the United Cup in Brisbane. Barty stunned the tennis world last year when she walked away from the sport just two months after winning the Australian Open.
She hasn't been seen at a tennis match since, preferring to spend the majority of her time at home with family and friends. But on Wednesday night she was back in the arena that she made home for so many years, making a rare appearance at the United Cup.
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The former World No.1 posed for photos with new No.1 Swiatek - the Polish superstar who has taken Barty's mantle and made it her own. Swiatek had a breakout year in 2022 following Barty's retirement, cementing her status as the best in women's tennis.
Barty had previously said she was impressed by Swiatek's reign as World No. 1. "She is a breath of fresh air and she has completely and utterly dominated this season," she said last year. "She has been a level above, a head above the rest, and it has been amazing to see her flourish."
Speaking before the United Cup, Swiatek said Barty had been an inspiration to her. The pair only got to play each other twice, with Barty winning both encounters - in Madrid in 2021 and Adelaide in 2022.
"I didn't really think it's possible for me," Swiatek said about Barty's retirement. "When she retired, I felt mixed emotions because I felt like she still has the best tennis out there. She really inspired me to work harder and her different game style made me realise that there is always room for improvement.
"At first I felt like I wasn't sure if this is kind of my place to be. Ash, she seemed like a huge role model for everybody in terms of her behaviour on court but also off court.
"So I felt like she really set the bar pretty high. So, I (needed) to show it to people but also show it to myself that I'm in the right place."
A post by the United Cup's Twitter account of Barty and Swiatek's meeting had nearly 200,000 views at time of publication and nearly 4000 likes. Some fans expressed their sadness that they'd never get to see Barty and Swiatek play again.
We miss you, Ash!!!
— Justin Hunt (@JustinAtValpo) January 4, 2023
So happy to see Iga and Ash got together ‼️✨💟
— Yuji Og (@es225p90) January 4, 2023
What a symbolic meeting! 💙
— Grupa PZU (@GrupaPZU) January 4, 2023
I miss Ash Barty on the tour 🥺
— Daddy's Girl (@JustMosa) January 4, 2023
Best picture of the day.
— Pras (@mdpsetyo) January 4, 2023
The saddest thing was not to be able to see them play once Iga caught fire right after Ash retired. Those two would have had some epic battles.
— Andrew Simpson (@abartman100) January 4, 2023
Ash Barty to return to Australian Open in mentor role
While Barty won't be playing at Melbourne Park this year, rising Aussie Olivia Gadecki has revealed Barty will be in her camp as a mentor. Barty has been mentoring her fellow Queenslander for several years and will continue the role at the Australian Open.
"I've been really fortunate to always be able to contact her if I have any questions or if I need advice, she's always been there for me," Gadecki told AAP at the United Cup in Sydney. "The best part is she just treats me like a normal person and we can relate in that regard and off court is just as important as on court."
Speaking about her life in retirement last week, Barty said she was surprised at how comfortable she felt away from tennis. “To be honest, I think what has surprised me most is how comfortable I’ve been,” she said.
“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.”
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