Ash Barty, Australia’s authentic champion

Australia’s newest Wimbledon champion, Ashleigh Barty, is the most recent successful Australian athlete to be the subject of nationalistic media rounds. ‘OUR WIMBLEDON CHAMPION’ scream the papers, the same sentiment, expressed with an extra word or a synonym, leaps from shareable social media graphics that spread like the Coronavirus at a party in inner Sydney. There is ‘Our Ash’, hands over her face, or arms upraised, or grinning with the trophy.



We are desperate to claim her and hold her close. Any successful Australian must be claimed. It is so important that Ash in particular has a say on the day-to-day in Australia.



Much is made of the role of sportspeople in paving the way for the next generation’s actions, behaviours, idiosyncrasies. Go to a junior cricket game, and you’ll see more Steve Smith-esque twitches than ever before as batters shudder and convulse at the crease. In junior footy competitions, there are more mullets than mouthguards getting around, with the influence of Bailey Smith’s luscious locks resounding on teenagers marching up wings in the west of Melbourne.



There are blow-ups at the umpires, dummy spits, jumper punches and relentless sledging that borders on outright bullying too. It is made more justifiable when it is on television, all the time, with the Australian badge or an AFL jumper plastered over behaviour like a branding.



Ash Barty is the perfect role model, universally loved and adored by Australians. There is no both-sidesing with Barty, no inevitable implosion or fall from grace that must be exhaustively documented by pens across the country. We can always be in her corner, she who represents the country with grace and grit on every occasion.



In her matches at Wimbledon, she is notable not for dominant, powerful, mercurial tennis, but immense levels of pluck, determination and hustle. Barty stands five foot five, possesses neither the marketable brute force of Serena nor the showmanship of Kyrgios. She has an immense work ethic, keeps the ball alive and all the while is quiet, humble, her emotions steady.



Many of her points against Karolina Pliskova are won by her opponent’s error. Barty keeps the ball in, Pliskova has another shot to play. Often enough to be important, Pliskova puts the ball wide, long, into the net. Barty prepares for the next point.



Barty started the final imperiously, winning 14 straight points against a wooden, immobile Pliskova. Every forehand fell into place, every slice stretching the much taller Czech into an awkward, bunted return from knee height. Barty danced through Pliskova’s serve and kept rally after rally rolling, forcing an irritated return that, every so often, gave Barty an unexpected point.



As the match continued, Pliskova began to find the pace of the game, clubbing winning forehands that traced the line, belting serves and playing with rhythm. Barty snuck out of the gate with a set advantage, but Pliskova rallied to win the second via an impressive tiebreak performance.



But Barty retained control in the last, breaking the Czech’s serve early and grappling with Pliskova deep into the set. Barty’s service games appeared solid, but Pliskova would not be ran over by the Australian’s consistent forehead. The third set went on serve after the break, Pliskova nailing her shots only to see Barty heave the ball back over the net, her jaw set and feet light. Pliskova needed to catch a break and didn’t get it.



As a tennis player, Ash Barty is replicable. As a sportsperson, she offers valuable lessons. But it is more than that.



Barty’s parents told Robert ‘Crash’ Craddock that they wanted to avoid the stereotype of over-involved tennis parents. They wanted to be parents, not coaches, and the approach is evident in Barty’s humility and earthiness. How many Wimbledon champions gave the sport away to try their hand at another sport, like Barty did? Barty’s stint as a cricketer for the Brisbane Heat is mentioned in passing, but surely needs more airtime.



The junior Wimbledon championship that Barty won wasn’t and shouldn’t have been a reason for her to persist with a sport that she no longer was enjoying. A season with bat and ball, a return to the sport and now, two Grand Slam championships.



Barty is an authentic champion, who knows her relationship with the sport. She relaxed before the final with a footy in hand, and was spotted cheering on Richmond last year, fist-pumping with one hand, beer in the other. It is only maybe then, watching the Tigers, that Ash Barty might scream. It’s certainly not the case on the court.



That she has won Wimbledon some 50 years after Evonne Goolagong-Cawley did as a trailblazing, precocious 19-year-old – during NAIDOC week – must be emphasised. Ash Barty is herself a proud Ngarigo woman and a leader for the wider Indigenous community. Her Wimbleon run has coincided with the announcement of Torres Strait Islander basketballer Patty Mills’ status as flag bearer in Tokyo. Mills, too, is known for his humility and leadership, a rare one-club player in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs, and one of only a handful of Australian basketballers to win an NBA title.



Two Indigenous sportspeople, two outstanding leaders, two excellent role models.



Ash Barty’s post-match interview saw her maintain her cool and level her emotions. She credited her mentors, family, fans, in her typical level-headed, genuine way. The only tear allowed by Barty came when Evonne’s importance to her was mentioned.



Sport influences culture and national identity. Ash Barty knows where she comes from.




The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE



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  1. For about three years now, Ash Barty has been my favourite Australian sportsperson.

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