Tennis great Roger Federer is still competing at the age of 40. Two other legends, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, are both in their mid-30s. Meanwhile, the world’s best female player has ended her career at just 25.
“I am spent,” Australia’s Ashleigh Barty said in a six-minute Instagram video today (Mar. 23). She added she does not have “the physical drive, the emotional want, and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top level any more.” Without giving much else away, she said it was time for her to “chase other dreams.”
It is rare for a top athlete to retire so young, without a major physical injury. Barty’s decision highlights the intensity of a star player’s life, and how short most careers are.
Ash Barty’s second break from Tennis
Barty, a tennis prodigy, has faced immense pressure since the early days of her career.
After she became the Wimbledon junior champion at age 15 back in 2011, she took a two-year hiatus from the sport owing to burnout from demanding schedules and hectic travel. She played cricket at home in Australia before picking up the tennis racket again in 2016.
After her Wimbledon win last year—the “one goal” she has worked for her whole life—she had a “gut feeling” that she was ready to move on from the sport. And she’s gone out on a high. Barty had won 25 of her last 26 matches and three of her past four events. The shocking announcement comes just two months after her Australian Open win—her third Grand Slam singles title.
The World number one has retired once before
The only other tennis player to retire young and at the top—the first to do so—was Belgium’s Justine Henin in May 2008.
Henin, then 25, had said she didn’t feel the same emotions on court anymore, and wanted to pursue other activities, including being more involved with her foundation helping kids with cancer. She made a comeback two years later, however, eventually retiring for good with an elbow injury in 2011.
Other top female players have taken substantial breaks, without walking away entirely. Naomi Osaka, the Japanese former world number one, decided to pull out of major tournaments last year, citing mental health issues.