Ash Barty's emphatic call on tennis return amid big announcement with Pat Rafter

The retired Aussie tennis champion recently had her first child.

Ash Barty and Pat Rafter.
Ash Barty is always fielding questions about whether she'll make a return to professional tennis. Image: Getty

Ash Barty is standing firm on her decision to retire from professional tennis, insisting she has no desire to mount a comeback to the sport. Barty shocked the tennis world in March last year when she announced she was calling it quits at age 25, just a few weeks after winning the Australian Open.

On Friday, the former World No.1 and three-time grand slam champion made her first media appearance since giving birth to son Hayden in July, speaking to reporters about the return of the Brisbane International to the Australian summer of tennis. When asked if the sight of good friend and mother Caroline Wozniacki making her return to the sport gave her itchy feet, Barty was steadfast.

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"I don't have the time to train, prepare and have so many good memories on this court and I get to create new ones now," she said alongside Pat Rafter at the Queensland Tennis Centre. "Certainly not. Pat might be more likely than me (to make a comeback)."

Danish player Wozniacki, who won the Australian Open in 2017, retired in 2020 to start a family. She launched her comeback last month in Cincinnati before making it to the fourth round of the US Open.

"I'm not coming back," she said with a smile. "I was really happy for 'Caro', a dear friend of mine and seeing her back doing what she loves is awesome. She has a couple of kids a bit older than Hayden but I am not coming back, no."

Barty dismissed concerns about the strength of women's tennis in Australia since her absence, with injuries to Daria Saville and Ajla Tomljanovic meaning there are no Aussies in the current top 100. "There's plenty coming through and it takes time to understand how you think you can fit in, grow into yourself," Barty said. "I'm excited for the next five or 10 years to see where they can get to."

Ash Barty and Pat Rafter happy to see Brisbane International back

Barty and Rafter lauded the return of their hometown event at the Queensland Tennis Centre on Friday. The Brisbane International will expand to a 32-player field in men's and women's singles in 2024, with a share in $3.1 million of prize money on offer.

The tournament was a huge success from 2009 to 2019, but was held as a women's-only event in 2020 and disappeared from the calendar thereafter when the mixed-teams United Cup was introduced. Barty endorsed the move to reinstate Brisbane as a standalone event from December 31-January 7, but was adamant it would not lure her out of retirement.

"It's the very first week of the calendar, the players love to come here, love the atmosphere," she said. "But I'm absolutely loving every single second (of being a mother)."

Ash Barty and Pat Rafter, pictured here at the launch of the return of the Brisbane International.
Ash Barty and Pat Rafter were on hand to launch the return of the Brisbane International. (Photo by Russell Freeman/Getty Images for Tennis Australia)

Rafter said he wished the event existed when he was still playing. "It really makes the whole centre work - there's enough courts, it's a great climate ahead of the Aussie Open, would have been a great stop if available when we played," he said.

The 2024 tennis season will begin on December 29 with the United Cup in Perth and Sydney in a streamlined event after Brisbane also hosted two group stages last year. The Adelaide International - like a WTA 500 and ATP 250 tournament like Brisbane - will follow from January 8-13, while the Hobart International (WTA 250) will again take place on the same dates.

with AAP

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