Tennis: Ashleigh Barty's father saw her tennis hiatus coming, says love for sport key to successful return

Rob Barty said his daughter had been "sad all the time" and was not herself on the court.
Rob Barty said his daughter had been "sad all the time" and was not herself on the court.PHOTOS: REUTERS, VOYAGER TENNIS ACADEMY

SINGAPORE - When Rob Barty's wife told him six years ago that their 18-year-old daughter would quit tennis after the 2014 US Open, he was not surprised.

The US Open that year was the first time Ashleigh Barty had qualified to compete in a Grand Slam, yet her father "knew it was coming" because his daughter had been "sad all the time" and was not herself on the court.

Rob recalled saying to his wife Josie at the time: "Okay, we've just got to make sure that she's happy".

Barty was "really relieved" when she returned home to Queensland after her opening round exit at Flushing Meadows, and Rob added: "We said to her, don't do this because you think you've got to do this and because it's what we've done for the last (few) years, we need to do this because you're happy."

He was speaking during a webinar organised by the ActiveSG/Voyager Tennis Academy for local and Australian parents on Wednesday (May 27).

Barty rose to prominence when she won the 2011 junior Wimbledon title at age 15, prompting comparisons to former world No. 1 Martina Hingis. She also reached three Grand Slam doubles finals with fellow Australian Casey Dellacqua, but struggled with the weight of expectation.

Ranked 216th in singles when she announced her indefinite break from tennis in September 2014, Barty's absence from the sport lasted nearly two years, during which she made her foray into professional cricket.

She returned to tennis in 2016 and, after an eventful 2019 when she won her first Grand Slam title at the French Open, is now the world No. 1.

For Rob and Josie, who had never been tennis players but always enjoyed watching the sport, supporting their youngest daughter's decision was easy.

Said Rob, who has two other daughters: "Her happiness was more important. Were we disappointed? Of course we were, because we love watching tennis and we were hooked on tennis.

"But to see Ash happy and see her around her sisters and having fun again was so much better than having her miserable and going out and playing tennis."

The importance of enjoying sport had been instilled in Barty since the 24-year-old first picked up tennis at age four. Till today, said Rob, she lives by the four rules her first coach Jim Joyce introduced: To be a good person, show and earn respect, have fun, and be happy.

Rob added: "We're not professional tennis players, we don't know the sport. All we know is to look after the best interests of Ash as a person and to give Ash a set of rules and morals to live life by.

"Everything else is done with her coach... and her team is absolutely critical and she has built an amazing team."

Singaporean parent Gary Tan, one of the 71 participants of the webinar, felt the event was a timely one. His 10-year-old son Callum James recently expressed interest in playing competitive tennis, after watching the 2017 Australian Open final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Tan, a tennis coach with over 30 years of experience, said: "The key thing is that it reminds us to trust the process, and that it's important to have the right people around who don't get ahead of themselves in terms of developing a young athlete and keeping them rooted.

"The bottom line is (Rob and Josie) really wanted (Barty) to have a good life and still continue to enjoy the sport and that's something I want for my son."