In the end, it was done in the most Ash Barty way possible.
With minimal fuss, on the couch with her best friend Casey Dellacqua, the grace of Barty’s retirement announcement broke all of our hearts in a way you couldn’t begrudge her.
As Andy Murray put it, the world number one’s retirement is “gutting” for tennis, but also for the nation which has rallied around a sportsperson who unites us like few others.
On and off the court, Barty was the people’s champion: humble in victory, gracious in defeat, identifiable by her down-to-earth personality and love of Australia’s favourite sports.
It’s no coincidence that one of the most circulated GIFs of Barty is her fist-pumping and enjoying a beer while cheering on her beloved Tigers.
In the tennis locker room, she was notorious for playing a warm-up game of cricket, and met partner Garry Kissick while teeing off for a round of golf.
But Ash Barty isn’t just any Aussie larrikin.
A proud Ngarigo woman, her ascension to the top of women’s tennis saw her walk in the footsteps of fellow Indigenous idol and Wiradjuri woman Evonne Goolagong-Cawley.
After her Australian Open victory in January, Barty was pictured alongside both Goolagong-Cawley and Cathy Freeman in a fitting tribute to a remarkable tradition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander excellence in sport she is an integral part of.
The photo — sure to become iconic — is apt for its nod to the power of these three women to transfix the nation in moments of sporting and cultural awakening.
Freeman at the Sydney Olympics; Barty at Wimbledon: these are moments befitting the question: “Where were you when..?”
In the shock six-minute retirement video, Barty described her victory at the All England Club as her “one true dream in tennis”; the moment that “changed a lot” for her as a person and athlete.
For the millions of Australians who stayed up to watch the final live, it will also be remembered for Barty’s emotional tribute to Goolagong-Cawley, who won the tournament almost exactly 50 years earlier.
“I just hope I made Evonne proud,” a choked-up Barty said on Centre Court.
Dwelling on whether she had impressed her hero — at a moment when she’d triumphed on perhaps the most famous tennis stage of all — encapsulated how Barty could at once be at the summit of world sport and the kid from Ipswich holding her tennis racquet proudly in the well-circulated photo on the internet.
Barty the tennis player was both the fierce competitor who howled uncharacteristically on match point at Melbourne Park in January, and the ever-smiling athlete sponsored by Vegemite — a rival, as Russell Jackson put it, both loved and feared.
Why this one is different
This isn’t the first time the 25-year-old has quit tennis, but as she put it herself, this time feels very different.
The Queenslander first burst onto the international stage in 2011, winning the Wimbledon junior title at age 15.
But by age 18, she would step away from the game, saying the triumph had been a case of “too fast too soon”.
She famously went on to play WBBL with the Brisbane Heat, saying she enjoyed the change that came with playing in a team environment, as well as the opportunity to be closer to her family and (now five) dogs.
She has often referenced that time away from the game as necessary for a “mental refresh”, and a key step, not a detour, on the path to future success.
Stepping away at the peak of her tennis career may be difficult for fans to understand, but it’s quintessential Barty: the move of a person mature beyond her years and with the self-assuredness to prioritise her mental wellbeing and the places and people that matter most.
Describing it as “her perfect way” to celebrate the “amazing journey” of her tennis career, it was in keeping with her attitude that tennis is a game, not a way of life.
It’s a decision, Barty says, for “Ash Barty the person, not Ash Barty the athlete”; one who is physically spent, who wants to stop travelling the world and come home to country.
In terms of her next move, Barty has for now kept her cards close to her chest, citing the desire to chase “other dreams”.
What’s near-certain is that she’ll continue to inspire many, including the next generation of Indigenous youth who look up to her the way she looks up to Goolagong-Cawley.
As the WTA put it on social media, she also leaves an indelible mark on so many hearts.