MIAMI – She didn’t know it at the time – none of us did, really – but the last shot of Ashleigh Barty’s career missed Danielle Collins by only a few feet. It was a forehand cross-court winner and it sealed a straight-sets victory for Barty in the Australian Open final.
Fifty-two days later, the World No.1 announced her retirement at the age of 25. Collins was in bed when she learned the news Tuesday just after 10 p.m. local time.
“I think it’s so cool being able to retire at 25,” Collins told reporters here at the Miami Open on Wednesday. “What other profession would you be able to do that in? There’s not too many. I think it’s incredible for our sport.
“I think it really speaks to the way our sport empowers women.”
The Barty bombshell dominated the Hologic WTA Media Day discussion at Hard Rock Stadium as a handful of top players expressed their support for the three-time major champion.
“She’s been at the top of her game for a long time,” Collins said. “A little bit surprising, but yeah, I think I’m really excited for Ash to see what she’s going to achieve off the court and the next steps of her life.”
Barty has reigned as world No.1 for 114 consecutive weeks now, leaving No.2 Iga Swiatek as her immediate successor. Predictably, Swiatek responded to the news with tears.
“You already know that I like to cry, so I was crying for a long time,” Swiatek said. “I mean, there was lot of confusion in me, for sure. But also sadness because when I think of the player that is really complete in terms of physicality, mentality, tennis-wise, I always thought of Ash and I always looked up to her. I mean, I still do.
“It would be really nice also to be able to compete against her for the next few years and actually try to play better and better, to be able to beat her slice. We’re going to miss her, for sure.”
Each and every one of the 11 questions posed to the 20-year-old concerned Barty. Swiatek was also in bed, in her Miami apartment, when a team member knocked on her door and told her to put her laptop down.
“I was already scared,” Swiatek said. “They said it may be possible that I’m going to be world No.1. Honestly, when we really thought about the situation and when we read all the news, all the rules that may apply, we realized there's no sense to actually think about that right now because we have such a short time to prepare for another tournament. We’ve got to stay focused on our work.”
This bears watching as the tournament unfolds; if the seeds hold, Swiatek could face No.14 Coco Gauff in the round of 16 and Garbiñe Muguruza in the quarterfinals. Barty’s epic slice backhand? Swiatek said she spent two weeks of her off-season training working on her slice – and how to better defend it.
Much in the manner of Serena Williams, Barty took the time to nurture her non-tennis life. She took three extended breaks over the years – in retrospect, a series of significant clues to her ultimate departure – and won a major after each one.
US Open champion Emma Raducanu, age 19, was very aware of that connection.
“I think that definitely probably helped,” she said. “If you get oversaturated with one thing, it’s not healthy with anything you do. I feel like that just shows, if you take time off, you come back, you’re hungry, you’re ready. She basically cleaned up when she came back.
“I took 18 months off in 2020. I started in 2021. Because I had that desire to really be out there on the court, I was so hungry, I feel like I had some great results last summer as well. Yeah, it just shows you don’t need to be only tennis, tennis, tennis.”
Raducanu also appreciated Barty’s versatility, the diversity in her game.
“I think she was a great player and she brought a lot of variety to the game,” Raducanu said. “I really respected that. I took a lot of inspiration from her, just how she’s able to mix things up.”
Nineteen-year-old Leylah Fernandez, who lost to Raducanu in last year’s US Open final, was surprised by Barty’s decision. She will try, she said, to follow her example.
“I’m just happy for everything that she’s accomplished, and the great role model she is to not only the players but also to the next generation,” Fernandez said. “I see how she works. I see how professional she is. I know what is my next step, what I need to do to hopefully achieve what she has done.”
How did the 18-year-old Gauff process Barty’s announcement?
“I mean, actually, I can’t say that word,” she said. “I was going to say that’s such a savage move. I was going to say something else, but I can’t. I obviously wish Ash the best. I was definitely surprised this morning when I saw it. I’m glad she was able to retire on her own terms, not due to injury or something.”
Raducanu, still only 19, said she wants to stay in the game as long as possible, into her 30s if possible. She’s sorry to miss the opportunity to play her even once.
“I feel like it would be such a good challenge for me because it’s so different to what you kind of see out there on the tour,” Raducanu said. “I really wanted to play her. Yeah, maybe like in the [Legends event] or something.”
This drew laughter from the gathered reporters. So did Swiatek’s answer of no – when asked if she had any intention of retiring.
On a serious note, Barty’s retirement focused on happiness – a lesson the players said they found valuable.
“Actually she’s even saying that she doesn’t expect people to understand that because it’s a pretty unusual situation,” Swiatek said. “I really respect and I really think she’s brave that she has made this decision because with all the expectations around, I think that’s an example not only for us tennis players or other athletes, but every person that they should put their own happiness [first].
“For sure winning against Ash someday would be something very special for me. On the other hand, there are many players who I have great competition against. We’re not going to be bored.”