July 21, 2024
Ashleigh Barty discusses Wimbledon, her Olympic 'dream' and being her 'authentic self' with the media

Ashleigh Barty discusses Wimbledon, her Olympic ‘dream’ and being her ‘authentic self’ with the media

Three weeks since she was forced to retire from the French Open, where she won her first and only grand slam in 2019, Barty is back on the court having weathered what she calls a period of “slow rehab.”

It’s been more than 40 years since Evonne Goolagong won at Wimbledon — the last Australian woman to do so — while Alicia Molik is the only Australian to medal in the singles competition at the Olympics.

Were Barty, who has won 11 titles, to win either competition, it would be a momentous milestone in her career.

“Every child growing up, every athlete whose sport or code is in the Olympics dares to dream (of winning gold),” the 25-year-old tells CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies.

“I think that’s a massive part of being an athlete. It’s a massive part of sport.”

Barty is returning from injury having been forced to retire from the French Open earlier this month.

Of particular inspiration to Barty is Cathy Freeman, the Australian 400m runner who lit up the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when she raced to gold.

“In Australia, the nation stopped, the world stopped during her race,” says Barty.

“I’ve spoken to her a little bit about her experiences and we share mentors. For me to learn of her experiences has been really special.

“But to also hear them as a friend is really cool, just to know what she went through in her career and her different challenges and the things that she loved. Being able to learn from Cathy is the best of the best, and I was certainly very lucky.”

Team spirit

With a ban on international spectators at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, Barty won’t have the same level of fervent support that Australian fans usually bring to sporting events, but she nevertheless hopes to draw motivation from her fellow teammates.

“We have such a rich history of Australian Olympians being really successful, and I think it’s not always just about the success: it’s about the team coming together and uniting as one,” she says.

“I think the camaraderie you see in the Aussie teams are remarkable, I don’t think anyone quite understands that feeling that you do have. I’ve had a very small taste of it in Fed Cup and a few different Australian teams, but nothing quite like an Australian Olympic team.”

As for Wimbledon, which gets underway on Monday having been canceled amid the pandemic last year, Barty will be hoping to progress beyond the round of 16 for the first time at this year’s competition.

Barty hits a return against Harriet Dart at Wimbledon in 2019.

Having triumphed there as a junior in 2011, the grass court grand slam is a tournament she holds dear — as well as being her favored surface.

“Just walking into the All England Club again, it gives you goosebumps,” says Barty, an ambassador for Jaguar, a sponsor of Wimbledon.

“And every single time that you walk into the gates, you’re wowed. It’s one of the most incredible places on Earth and certainly one of my favorites to come back to.”

‘The best version of myself’

Absent from the women’s draw at Wimbledon this year will be Naomi Osaka, who announced she would skip the tournament having withdrawn from the French Open earlier this month.
It came after Osaka, a four-time grand slam winner, declined to speak to the media at Roland-Garros, saying at the time that she had “suffered long bouts of depression” since winning her first major title in 2018 and wanted to look after her mental health.

For her own part, Barty says that she sees the media as “part and parcel” of the job, although also acknowledges that the process isn’t without its difficulties.

“Our sport certainly wouldn’t be where it is without the media and without being able to share our thoughts,” she says.

“Of course, at times it’s challenging. I’ll never hide behind that fact that some of my hardest moments have been going into press rooms. But that’s OK. I think it’s also not the be all and end all.

“I’m trying to do the best that I can to be a tennis player and go out there and be the best version of myself and just be my authentic self. I feel like I have nothing to hide.

“I can’t comment for how Naomi’s feeling. She’s got a completely different career to me, everyone has their own unique challenges and their own unique story … I hope that she’s got a support network around her, that she’s talking to who she needs to.”

Having enjoyed a stellar junior career, Barty took a break from tennis in 2014, later saying that the sport had become “robotic” and that she was a “victim of my own success.”

She turned to cricket and earned a contract as an all-rounder with Brisbane Heat back in Australia, before returning to tennis in 2016.

“It was my decision. I’m accountable for all my decisions in my life and my career,” Barty says of her time away from the sport.

“I certainly can’t say that that would work for everyone, but it worked for me.”