The untold story of Australian tennis superstar Ash Barty 1

The untold story of Australian tennis superstar Ash Barty

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Australian tennis star Ashleigh Barty battled through depression before becoming the leading player on the women’s professional world circuit.

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Five years ago the impressive feat seemed highly unlikely as her junior career proved too much to bear.

Suffering depression, Barty shocked many after quitting the sport indefinitely.

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A young Ash Barty clings onto a  junior tennis trophy she won at a tournament back in 2002

A young Ash Barty clings onto a  junior tennis trophy she won at a tournament back in 2002

She moved to Melbourne and dabbled with a career in cricket before fate dragged her back to the court, where she realised she belonged.

And as Barty looks to make history at the Australian Open on Thursday night against America’s Madison Keys in their semi-final on Rod Laver Arena, a photo of her as a little girl holding a trophy has gone viral once again. 

The photo was taken by her parents, who gave a hard copy to her coach Jim Joyce.

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‘Ash said to me recently at the races that if the day ever arrived where we left those courts she would have a farewell where the photo was taken,’ Joyce told the Courier Mail.

‘Just get two chairs, a bottle of Grange and some nibbles and chat about the journey.’

Globally admired Aussie tennis star Ash Barty (pictured left) with one of her older sisters Sara

Globally admired Aussie tennis star Ash Barty (pictured left) with one of her older sisters Sara 

Barty first picked up a racquet aged four because 'didn't want to play what she thought was a girls' game'

Barty first picked up a racquet aged four because ‘didn’t want to play what she thought was a girls’ game’

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Barty is the youngest child of Robert, a Ngarigo Indigenous Australian, and Josie, the daughter of English immigrants, and was born and raised in Ipswich, Queensland.

Her two sisters, Sara and Ali, played netball but Barty first picked up a racquet aged four.

This was because ‘didn’t want to play what she thought was a girls’ game’, her father told the Sydney Morning Herald.   

Joyce took Barty under his wing after noticing she had a natural talent for the sport. 

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Barty was five when she arrived at Joyce’s court at the West Brisbane Tennis Centre and was soon hitting with players twice her age.

‘The thing that stood out was – her hand and eye coordination was amazing – but it was her focus and concentration for that age,’ Joyce said.

‘She was equal to any of the nine and 10-year-olds, actually, as far as that goes.

‘She was outstanding.’

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Joyce said Barty’s talents as a sportsperson were far-reaching and coming from a family of golfers she was also decent with a club. 

‘She just picked up things so quickly,’ Joyce said. 

‘Ash would have made a fantastic golfer… you should have seen her on a golf course.

Barty (right) and two-time Wimbledon winner Evonne Goolagong-Cawley talk to media at Brisbane International Tennis Centre, July 6, 2011

Barty (right) and two-time Wimbledon winner Evonne Goolagong-Cawley talk to media at Brisbane International Tennis Centre, July 6, 2011

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The teenager was then sent abroad, where she competed in international tours without her parents at the age of 14 (Barty is pictured, second from right)

The teenager was then sent abroad, where she competed in international tours without her parents at the age of 14 (Barty is pictured, second from right)

Junior tennis coach Jim Joyce took Barty under his wing after noticing she had a natural talent for the sport. Barty was five when she arrived at Joyce's court at the West Brisbane Tennis Centre and was soon hitting with players twice her age

Junior tennis coach Jim Joyce took Barty under his wing after noticing she had a natural talent for the sport. Barty was five when she arrived at Joyce’s court at the West Brisbane Tennis Centre and was soon hitting with players twice her age

‘And she just wanted to play tennis, she didn’t want to play team games.

‘Her sisters were playing netball, she just wanted to play tennis.’ 

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By the age of nine, Barty was training with boys six years older than her, and at 12 she was playing against adult men.

The teenager was then sent abroad, where she competed in international tours without her parents at the age of 14.  

Barty recalled her first international tour in Europe where she was riddled with homesickness.

She would phone her parents crying almost every evening, but despite the struggle she managed to power through the competitions.

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Barty shakes hands with superstar Serena Williams during the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros

Barty shakes hands with superstar Serena Williams during the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros

Barty has been with PGA Trainee professional Garry Kissick, since 2017 - the couple are now engaged

Barty has been with PGA Trainee professional Garry Kissick, since 2017 – the couple are now engaged

Barty is awarded Female Junior Athlete of the Year at the Newcombe Medal Awards. She is seen pictured with Bernard Tomic in 2010

Barty is awarded Female Junior Athlete of the Year at the Newcombe Medal Awards. She is seen pictured with Bernard Tomic in 2010

The 14-year-old was also invited to Las Vegas as a member of the Adidas player development team where she was given the privileged opportunity to hang out with tennis legends Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi.

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‘This trip has given me a lot of confidence and self-belief and has made me realise how I need to work and what sacrifices I must make in order to be a great tennis player,’ Barty said at the time. 

At the age of 15, she hit a range of new milestones, having competed at the Australian Open, won high-level Grade 1 events in Malaysia and Belgium, and secured her only Grand Slam junior title at Wimbledon.

She became the second Australian to win the girls’ singles event after Debbie Freeman in 1980, and the first Australian girl to win a junior Grand Slam title since Jelena Dokic at the 1998 US Open.

Speaking to her Wimbledon victory, Barty said: ‘It was just too much – it was too much beyond tennis, beyond playing the game’.

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She found herself approaching a crossroads, unsure of her future prospects on the court amid the mounting media exposure and pressure to succeed. 

At the age of 15, Barty (pictured in January 2019) hit a range of milestones, having competed at the Australian Open, won high-level Grade 1 events in Malaysia and Belgium, and secured her only Grand Slam junior title at Wimbledon

At the age of 15, Barty (pictured in January 2019) hit a range of milestones, having competed at the Australian Open, won high-level Grade 1 events in Malaysia and Belgium, and secured her only Grand Slam junior title at Wimbledon

Barty is pictured in 2014 - the year she decided to take an indefinite break from cricket

Barty is pictured in 2014 – the year she decided to take an indefinite break from cricket 

During the season where she turned 17, Barty had only spent 27 days at home during the calendar year, and in 2014 following the US Open, she made the critical decision to take a break from tennis (pictured with Aussie tennis legend John Newcombe)

During the season where she turned 17, Barty had only spent 27 days at home during the calendar year, and in 2014 following the US Open, she made the critical decision to take a break from tennis (pictured with Aussie tennis legend John Newcombe)

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When she was 16, Barty lived alone in an apartment in Melbourne’s South Yarra. 

During the season where she turned 17, Barty only spent 27 days at home during the calendar year, and in 2014 following the US Open, she made the critical decision to take a break from tennis. 

Her father Robert said he suffers from bipolar, manic depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, and believed he passed depression onto his daughter. 

‘It was too much too quickly for me as I’ve been travelling from quite a young age,’ she said in a later interview about quitting the sport.

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‘I wanted to experience life as a normal teenage girl and have some normal experiences.’

But with sport clearly running in her blood, Barty instead took up cricket and enjoyed a degree of success.

Barty and US superstar Serena Williams enjoy a moment during a French Open match in 2018

Barty and US superstar Serena Williams enjoy a moment during a French Open match in 2018

With sport clearly running in her blood, Barty took up cricket after quitting tennis in 2014

With sport clearly running in her blood, Barty took up cricket after quitting tennis in 2014

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Barty is the youngest child of Robert, a Ngarigo Indigenous Australian, and Josie (right), the daughter of English immigrants, and was born and raised in Ipswich, Queensland

Barty is the youngest child of Robert, a Ngarigo Indigenous Australian, and Josie (right), the daughter of English immigrants, and was born and raised in Ipswich, Queensland

Barty joined the Queensland Fire squad in the women’s national league, with coach Andy Richards recalling he was instantly impressed with her skills.

‘Her skill from the first time she picked up a bat was outstanding from a coach’s perspective – she never missed a ball in her first session,’ he said.

But after a successful two years of professional cricket – which saw her play for a range of teams at high profile events including in the Women’s Big Bash League with the Brisbane Heat – Barty made the bold return to tennis in February 2016.

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The reunion with tennis came after Barty went to watch her doubles teammate, Casey Dellacqua compete in the Sydney International. 

Dellacqua forced her on to an empty court in the late afternoon and Barty realised it was time for her to return to her first love.   

‘I used one of her racquets and I just said, ”This is me. This is what I should be doing”,’ she said.  

Barty is the National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador for Tennis Australia, and calls herself a 'very proud Indigenous woman'

Barty is the National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador for Tennis Australia, and calls herself a ‘very proud Indigenous woman’

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Barty at the crease for Brisbane Heat in the Women's Big Bash League in December of 2015

Barty at the crease for Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League in December of 2015

Barty celebrates after her French Open semi-final victory against Amanda Anisimova in 2019 - she went onto win her first Grand Slam at Roland Garros

Barty celebrates after her French Open semi-final victory against Amanda Anisimova in 2019 – she went onto win her first Grand Slam at Roland Garros

Ash Barty claimed the year-end world No. 1 singles ranking for the third year in a row in November 2021

Ash Barty claimed the year-end world No. 1 singles ranking for the third year in a row in November 2021

On Thursday night, Barty, 25, will look to progress to her first Grand Slam final in Australia when she takes on unseeded American Madison Keys

On Thursday night, Barty, 25, will look to progress to her first Grand Slam final in Australia when she takes on unseeded American Madison Keys

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She is the National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador for Tennis Australia, and calls herself a ‘very proud Indigenous woman’.

‘Giving back to my community is very important to me and I hope to inspire many more Indigenous kids to get active and enjoy their tennis,’ she said.

Barty is engaged to her boyfriend, PGA Trainee professional Garry Kissick, who she has been with since 2017.

On Thursday night, Barty, 25, will look to progress to her first Grand Slam final in Australia when she takes on unseeded American Madison Keys.

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Barty has looked a class above in her earlier matches at Melbourne Park, as she looks to snare a third major title after winning the French Open in 2019 and Wimbledon last year.

And her opponents are clearly feeling the heat. 

‘You feel pretty helpless,’ said US star Jessica Pegula, after she lost to Barty in straight sets in the quarter-finals on Tuesday night.

‘I think that when she gets into a rhythm…her game just kind of picks you apart a little bit, and it can be really frustrating because you don’t feel like you can get a lot of free points, there’s really not much you can do. 

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‘She just doesn’t give you any free points.’

Barty’s semi-final showdown versus Keys is from 7pm tonight (AEST) on Channel 9.

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