London | Barty returns to Wimbledon

Former World No 1 Ash Barty will play at The Championships at Wimbledon this year in the legends’ invitation doubles draw, partnering fellow Australian Casey Dellacqua.

It’s not like I’m doing things to keep myself away from the court. I want be able to be there to raise Hayden, and I want to be able to enjoy that. That’s what I want to do, plain and simple. That’s where my priorities lie now. I absolutely love being a mum. There’s nothing else that I prefer to do. Ash Barty

“I can announce the band’s back together, AB/CD,” Dellacqua told The AO Show Weekly on Thursday. “So, what an opportunity to be able to play with my best mate. This is why I love tennis. I get an opportunity to play with my best mate, who is an extremely good player, and has won the Championships before.”

“For us, we are gonna have a great time, and enjoy just being back together as friends on a tennis court, which we have loved to do our whole life. She’s got like 13 years on me, so she can do all the running around, and she can do all that part, and I’ll just hit a few in [laughing]. But I’m actually really excited about it.”

Dellacqua, a proficient doubles specialist until her retirement in 2018, won the 2011 French Open mixed doubles tournament, and has been a finalist at all 4 Grand Slams in women’s doubles.

Barty, the 2021 Wimbledon champion, retired from professional tennis in March 2022 after winning her 3rd major at the Australian Open, and, last July, she gave birth to her first son, Hayden.

The amiable Australian memorably lifted the the Venus Rosewater Dish on Centre Court after beating Karolina Pliskova to become the second Indigenous Australian woman to win the Wimbledon title after the great Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won in 1971 and 1980.

At the time of her retirement, Barty said tennis would aways hold a special place in her heart, but she was looking forward to a life without the stresses of playing on the women’s tour.

Between 2013 and 2017, Barty and Dellacqua won 5 Hologic WTA Tour doubles titles together, as well as reaching 4 Grand Slam finals, including Wimbledon 2013, where they lost the final to Hsieh Su-Wei & Peng Shuai.

They last played as a doubles pair at SW19 seven years ago, but their stay ended prematurely after they withdrew from the tournament after the 2nd-round.

Dellacqua, 39, retired from the sport in 2018, and currently works as a commentator.

28-year-old Barty also will be taking on another role this year as a members of the BBC’s commentary team during Wimbledon.

Ash Barty & Casey Dellacqua, seen here in 2018, were Australian team-mates in the Fed Cup

© Matt King/Getty Images

It will be the first time Barty has taken to a tennis court at a major event since stunning the tennis world with news of her retirement at the age of 25, when she was the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion.

The decision to call time on her career came just 7 weeks after ending Australia’s 44-year singles title drought at the Melbourne Grand Slam, the third of her major victories, adding to the 2019 French Open and the 2021 Wimbledon titles.

Barty shared an announcement from Wimbledon organisers on Thursday, who said they were ‘delighted’ to have the 2021 singles champion back.

“Reunited with the Wimbledon grass,” Wimbledon announced. “Delighted to have our 2021 singles champion Ash Barty returning for this year’s Invitational Doubles.”

The legends tournament will feature 2 groups of 8 pairs playing in a round-robin format, with the top pairs from each group qualifying for the final, and a chance to win a share of the £35,000 prize for first place.

Each pair will pocket a guaranteed £24,000 between them, with the legends event also encompassing men’s doubles and mixed doubles.

Since retiring, Barty has dabbled in golf, and was the headline act in the Icons Series, a similar teams exhibition event featuring former golfers as well as other retired athletes from other sports, in 2022.

Barty has continually shot down calls for her to return to tennis, insisting she is happy in her post-retirement life after starting a family with husband Garry Kissick and their son, Hayden.

“It’s not like I’m doing things to keep myself away from the court,” she said. “I want be able to be there to raise Hayden, and I want to be able to enjoy that. That’s what I want to do, plain and simple. That’s where my priorities lie now. I absolutely love being a mum. There’s nothing else that I prefer to do.”

In Barty’s last match she busted the country’s 44-year title drought in the Australian Open women’s singles, after which she held a mammoth 2633-point margin in the WTA rankings over then-world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka.

Barty, who turned 28 in April, shocked the tennis world almost 2 months later when she said she was quitting the sport for good, and asking to be immediately removed from the rankings at the completion of that year’s Miami Open.

Ash Barty defeated future World No 1 Iga Swiatek both times they met, including in 2021 in Madrid

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Her decision to abdicate her throne ended Barty’s stint as World No 1 at 121 weeks (114 in a row), which was the 7th-longest ever, behind only tennis royalty in Monica Seles (178), Martina Hingis (209), Chris Evert (260), Serena Williams (319), Martina Navratilova (332) and Steffi Graf (377).

Former World No 4 and 2000 Wimbledon semi-finalist Jelena Dokic, who commentates on all the Grand Slams for Channel Nine in Australia, remains in awe of Barty’s achievements.

“She won three grand slams on three different surfaces,” Dokic says. “I feel like she was peaking still, and she would have won many more, but she fulfilled her goals and dreams.

“The fact, even at 25, that she had three years as a dominant No 1 in the world was so impressive. She was an incredible force, and I respect anyone’s decision on what they want to do in their career … but I think she would have gone on to win double-digit Grand Slams.”

When she retired, Barty was still 2204 points clear of her closest rival, Swiatek, who did not win a set against Barty in their 2 meetings, in that final week on top before handing the No 1 ranking to the Pole.

“There is no better person [than Swiatek],” Barty said at the time. “She’s an incredible person, a great tennis player, and the way she’s brought this fearless energy onto the court has been incredible.

“I loved testing myself against her, I loved playing her [and] I loved practising with her… I think she thoroughly deserves it.”

Ash Barty has dabbled in golf, and was the headline act in the Icons Series in New Zealand in 2022

© Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Swiatek, for her part, admitted in an interview shortly afterwards that she had cried for 40 minutes after finding out about Barty’s retirement, and that she would ascend to No 1.

The Pole delivered Barty the ultimate compliment after her 1st-round win at this year’s Australian Open, saying the Queenslander, who was famed for her on-court artistry, inspired her to greater heights.

“I just felt I had more variety because I started practising this stuff just to play against [Barty]; getting back slices and everything,” Swiatek said. “I don’t know if I would be World No 1 if she was still playing, but she was a huge inspiration.”

Nevertheless, Swiatek has thrived, including an extraordinary 37-match winning streak that is the longest on the WTA Tour this century.

Only Sabalenka briefly interrupted Swiatek’s hold on top spot since, with the latter celebrating 100 weeks as World No 1 in April, and reaching 109 weeks on Monday, well on target to match Barty’s tally on 16 September, barely a week after the US Open finishes.

Main draw action at Wimbledon begins on 1 July, with the invitation events starting on 9 July.

Ash Barty & Casey Dellacqua, seen here in 2018, will revive their successful partnership in the Wimbledon Legends Invitational

© Jaimi Chisholm/Getty Images



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