Ash Barty, a wonder of our sporting age

Ash Barty, here with her dream prize, has become one of the wonders of our sporting age.
Ash Barty, here with her dream prize, has become one of the wonders of our sporting age.

Watching her clutch the Venus Rosewater Dish as Wimbledon champion, her face gleaming with the tears and the sheer delight at having made her dream come true, it felt time to properly appreciate the true greatness of Ash Barty, the queen of the sporting comeback.

How do you take a year off from your chosen sport when you're world No.1 at the height of your career and then somehow return within months to be playing at an even more elevated level than when you began your sabbatical?

How do you return from a hip injury so debilitating that you don't even think you'll be able to start Wimbledon, yet end up winning the event majestically without having a single competitive match on grass beforehand?

There's only one way. You must be a once-in-a-generation sporting talent, a phenomenon with a blessed sporting gift that goes hand-in-hand with a single-mindedness and courage to follow your own path, to fashion your own destiny.

Pretty much, you have to be unique.

Australia's new Wimbledon champion has taken a journey like no-one else. A kid who walked away from a glittering tennis future to shine in a collective environment at cricket and then returned 18 months later to start a new solo ascent to the very pinnacle. Unreal.

And winning Wimbledon was, to Barty, the pinnacle. Ten years ago, she came through the gates of the All England Club as a scared, wide-eyed 15-year-old feeling a very long way from home from Queensland and walked away with the coveted girls' title.

Now, still feeling that same sense of wonder, she's become only the fourth women's player in the Open era to complete the junior-senior double after Ann Jones, Martina Hingis and Amelie Mauresmo.

Yet those around Barty, like her coach Craig Tyzzer, smile that nothing she does can surprise them. In so many ways, she seems so ordinary, while being utterly extraordinary.

To everyone, she's down-to-earth, lovely, good old Ash.

Yet at the same time, her psychological mentor Ben Crowe sees someone who's "always hunting, always fighting, always competing, always a warrior."

She's the perfect team player, yet the most striking of individuals.

Modern tennis has plenty of play-by-numbers automatons who you probably wouldn't fancy watching even if they were knocking up on your back lawn.

But Barty has been playing an all-court game with such panache and enviable mix of skills at this Wimbledon that, if it wasn't for the remarkable power generated by perfect timing and footwork from her diminutive frame, she could almost be a 21st century version of her heroine Evonne Goolagong.

Her triumph at Wimbledon has felt, as Barty had hoped, like the perfect tribute to Goolagong Cawley, from the scalloped dress to the elegant slice.

It's been a delight for tennis connoisseurs, with Marina Navratilova among those who've been drooling this past fortnight about not just the lovely variety in her game but the evident pleasure she's taking as she goes for her shots.

"Since she's come back, she's loved every single second of being on the court and it comes through in how she plays," says Navratilova.

That's so true. This Wimbledon triumph has seen the full flowering of someone who's made a conscious effort to enjoy every single moment of her grand global tour after choosing to step aside last year.

"It's about understanding that you don't get to play tennis for ever, you don't get these opportunities every single day and genuinely having that childlike, carefree kind of playfulness is really important," said Barty.

"And even though I'm extremely professional and serious and driven and impassioned about my career, it's also important to back off sometimes and just enjoy it and try to smell the roses on the way and take it all in."

Just as a reporter asked her a couple of months ago when she was sweeping all before her on the European clay, there'll be others asking now after this whether the Ash Barty era has arrived.

And you just know her answer will be the same. "Not by any means, mate. I'm just trying to be the best version of myself. I certainly don't feel by any means it's an era of ... er, me."

Australia will just hope that their Ash, a wonder of her sporting age, never changes.

Australian Associated Press