Yesterday, I interviewed Ash Barty. Today, I feel like a different person.

When Ash Barty walks into a room, the energy changes. She glows. Just like those people who are either profoundly physically healthy or genuinely happy, or both.

When you start speaking to Barty, her lack of ego seems almost at odds with the fact that just over a year ago, she became the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon in over forty years. I watched those three tense sets in a way I can’t remember ever having watched sport: unflinchingly engaged and in awe of her composure and mental stamina and focus. But that lack of ego, I realise, is exactly why she’s able to do what she does – both on and off the court. 

I’m interviewing her as part of her new partnership with Optus as their Chief of Inspiration, a role which aims to connect Australians and inspire them to say yes to their ambitions. For Barty, this move is part of her post-retirement decision to "prioritise Ash Barty the person, over Ash Barty the tennis player," and help people by sharing her story.


When a 25-year-old Barty stepped away from tennis earlier this year, still ranked as world number one and just two months after winning the Australian Open for her third Grand Slam singles title, it came as a surprise. But no one could watch the six-minute video where she explained her decision and not entirely respect it. 

"I'm so happy, and I'm so ready. I just know at the moment, in my heart, for me as a person, this is right," she said. 

"I don't have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level anymore. I am spent."

It was consistent with what fans of Barty will know about her – that despite her remarkable professional achievements, her version of ‘success’ isn’t tied to winning. She’s leading the way for a new generation of athletes whose focus on purpose and meaning is creating well-rounded human beings, protected from the myriad issues that come from building an identity based on performance. To me, it’s this perspective – the one that led to her retirement – that makes her so inspiring. 

I begin my chat by asking Barty to share the most inspiring thing she’s ever been told. I want to know if there’s some secret she’s been let in on, some transformative piece of advice, that was crucial in forming the person she’s become. Mostly because I need it. For my personal growth. Please.


She explains that the message that’s always resonated with her is around being your "true, authentic self".

"When you’re your true authentic self, when you’re brave and courageous, that’s when the good stuff happens," she says. "In the last four or five years of my life, I’ve been better at that."

"There’s only one of you," she says. "You can only be yourself."

Ash Barty at six years old. Image: Instagram.  


I ask her where she thinks inspiration comes from. Was she born with the propensity to say yes, to take risks, to be motivated? 

No, she says. That comes from the people around her. 

"I’ve been very lucky in my life to be surrounded by great people – that started with my mum and dad, my sisters, who always instilled good values in me… fundamentals that set me up for who I am."

She later references Evonne Goolangong Cawley, too, who "paved a path for Indigenous youth to dream and believe, and I was one of those kids".

"I’ve been surrounded by strong women… by very driven, passionate women, and it became part of my DNA," she says.

But she’s also spent a lot of time bettering herself, particularly with her mindset coach, Ben Crowe. 

At Wimbledon in 2018, she lost her third-round match with 24 unforced errors. Afterwards, she went to Melbourne and started to work with Crowe, and in 2019, she won her first grand slam singles title: the French Open. 

I asked what they talked about after that loss. 

"We talked about my life. We talked about my story, and I think that was the start of a new beginning for me," she says. 

"There were a lot of tears, a lot of tough moments, a lot of things you don’t want to talk about.


"[I developed] a new perspective, a new understanding of Ash Barty the person as well as Ash Barty the tennis player. There was a lot of work that went into it and we continue to do that work even now… I’m in touch with Crowie most days."

She says she learned "there is no success without failure, and you learn more when you do fail".

Ash Barty with Cathy Freeman and Evonne Goolagong Cawley celebrating her Wimbledon win in 2021. Image: Getty. 

Those who have followed Barty’s career will know that it’s her composure – her ability to reset and reboot in the most high-pressure moments – that sets her apart. So in moments like those during Wimbledon in 2021, what was going through her head?


"I train that," she tells me. "It became second nature. It became really normal for me to just go back to my routine, my process, and those words were stemming around me being sharp and focused and present."

But it’s more than that. 

"As an athlete, I was fortunate enough to play a game for a living," she says. "And it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that as serious as tennis can be, it’s just a game. And that’s what I fell in love with as a kid. I loved to play tennis for the first time and loved the competition and the challenge.

"In those high-pressure moments, no matter what the profession is, it’s going back to why you do it. Because you love it, right?"

Of course, that attitude – seeing the joy and the fun – is only possible when you value yourself for something other than your ability to win. 

"My version of success was quite simple," she tells me. "I gave absolutely everything I could. My success is completely getting the most out of myself. I’m proud of the way I worked with my team, I’m proud of our journey along the way and I wouldn’t change it for a thing."

Watch the moment Ash Barty wpn Wimbledon. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Part of Barty’s work with Ben Crowe has involved establishing her ‘purpose’. Crowe has spoken at length about focusing on "the human being, less so on the human doing," and the importance of establishing a 'to-be list' rather than a 'to-do list'. He asks his clients what lights them up, and encourages them to create a purpose statement that is dependent on their "decisions" rather than external "conditions". 

Your purpose can’t be to be the world’s best tennis player, because that simply isn’t something you can control. But it can be to enjoy the game, or to give it your all, or to inspire others to play.

Barty’s purpose, however, has nothing to do with tennis. 

"My purpose… once I discovered what it was, it was a really profound moment," she says. "I want kids and I want people to feel comfortable in themselves."

"Just because I’m no longer hitting a tennis ball, I think if anything my contribution becomes even bigger. I have more time to do it… to share my experiences with others, and that’s what really lights me up."

This is a woman who has worked at being a good human first and a great athlete second. In doing so, she became the world number one at her sport. But it meant that once she was 'spent,' she had the space to "chase other dreams".


So what does she do when she feels uninspired? When the motivation runs out? 

"I go back to what lights me up the most," she says. "What do I love to do the most? That’s spending time with my family, that’s challenging myself, that’s finding new ways to be curious and exploring that curiosity. 

"Those are the values that I go back to. That’s my reset button. 

"You’re allowed to go back to that, you’re allowed to hit the refresh button, hit the pause button, and then go again."

Barty did it countless times on the international stage with tennis, and then she did it in her own life. 

She’s hit refresh. And when she speaks about it, she radiates with the quiet confidence that it was the right thing for her. 

I don't know if it's my own bias, and the fact that I've found myself particularly interested in purpose and meaning in recent years, but my conversation with Ash Barty feels less like a media interview and more like a pep talk. It's as though she really wants people to learn from her story. To take with them the knowledge that falling in love with the process of what you do rather than the outcome is the key to feeling fulfilled.  


In a world obsessed with hustle culture and predicated on searching for external validation by increasingly living our lives online, Ash Barty's philosophy is a radical one. It's one I can't stop thinking about in the 24 hours after our conversation. 

After the interview, people ask me what Barty is like and all I can muster is, 'SHE GLOWS.' 

But what I mean is that she's a special type of person, whose magic extends far beyond the bounds of her stellar tennis career. 

For more from Clare Stephens, you can follow her on Instagram

Feature Image: Supplied + Getty.

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