The last time Ashleigh Barty took a break from tennis, in 2014, the winner of three Grand Slam titles decided she would play professional cricket, and signed up for Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia. Now, eight years later, having retired from tennis as world No. 1, she has taken up golf, where she has won at club level before. She is said to be good enough to be on the LPGA Tour. Tiger Woods has praised her game saying she “has a great swing.”
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Is Barty the greatest all-round sportsperson of our times? The moving ball, the stationary ball, team game, individual sport, the Olympics (she has a bronze in the mixed doubles) – Barty has one of the most impressive lists of achievements among modern sportspersons. And just in case you thought she wasn’t doing enough, she is launching her writing career too with a series of children’s books.
In sports, it is usually not productive to spread yourself too thin. Sachin Tendulkar – who shares a birthday with Barty – is all about cricket, to the exclusion of nearly everything else.
He was not only the No. 1 batsman of his time but his record suggests he was the No. 1 of all time. Some natural athletes – CB Fry immediately comes to mind – are able to come out on top in different sports. Fry played both cricket and football for England, held the world long jump record and was a good rugby player and ice skater.
There is something frightening about such achievements, but given the way modern sporting seasons go and the manner in which sportspersons train it was thought impossible to switch sports at will.
READ: Retired Barty to start new chapter with series of children’s books
When Barty took her first break from tennis, she said, “I wanted to experience life as a normal teenage girl and have some normal experiences.” Eight years later, while announcing her retirement in March this year she said, “I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level any more. I spent it. ”
Amazingly, Barty is only 25, an age where one is at the peak in sports. She could return to tennis – she is the reigning Wimbledon champion – in a year or two, or decide to take up golf professionally or plunge into something completely new. Like Alpine skiing or soccer. She has the example of Yevgeny Kafelnikov, former world No. 1 in tennis who then played golf on the PGA Tour, or even earlier, Lottie Dod, five-time Wimbledon champion who won the British Amateur golf title, represented England in hockey and won an Olympic silver in archery. All this more than a century ago.
Barty’s story is the story of what you do in sport as well as what sport does to you. She is rumored to be working on her autobiography; it would be fascinating to get into the mind of one of the most talented and unusual sportspersons of our time.