Image: Ash Barty Instagram.

"That's what Barty does for our mob": The significance of Ash Barty's return to Wimbledon 

A little Blak kid got to sit in the stands and watch another little Blak kid making history. That’s what Barty does for our mob. 

In 2019 I had the privilege of attending Wimbledon. 

I woke up at the crack of dawn, bleary-eyed, made my way down to Wimbledon and joined the famous queue at around 6am. 

If you’re unfamiliar with how most people get tickets to Wimbledon, you may be as surprised as I was to learn this is how it works. 

For the next three hours life in ‘The Queue’ seemed to slow down. I sat with hundreds of others on a grassy field in the sun and every half an hour or so we would stand up in a sleepy daze and edge a tiny bit closer to the gate. And then finally, we were inside the grounds.

Unlike many of the other fans though, I wasn’t hoping to catch a glimpse of Rafael Nadal. Or Roger Federer. Not even Serena Williams to be completely honest. 

As a 23-year-old First Nations woman, a world away from home, I was there to see one woman and one woman only. Ash Barty. 

2019 was a pivotal year for the proud Ngarigo woman. Barty began the season as world number 15 and by Wimbledon she was world number one. The first Australian player to reach the pinnacle position since her idol and mentor Wiradjuri woman, Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1976.

“You always dream of it as a little kid, but for it to become a reality is incredible,” Barty said of the achievement.

By Wimbledon, Barty had won her first grand slam at the French Open. 

Although that year she was eliminated from the singles competition at Wimbledon in round four, she was still in the doubles. 

With plenty of time to spare I was in my seat awaiting her arrival onto the court when whispers began to circulate the crowd.

“They’ve changed her court.” 

Nothing was going to stop me seeing her play. Without a second thought I was running down the stairs and towards the ticket box.

Dashing past the bars with Pimms flowing and stands selling over-priced, melting strawberries and cream. One more anxious wait in another queue, and I had a ticket to the Barty Party. 

Barty, alongside her doubles partner Victoria Azarenka, won the match but then withdrew in the third round. None of that actually mattered though. 

A little Blak kid got to sit in the stands and watch another little Blak kid making history. That’s what Barty does for our mob. 

The years following saw her become a star of tennis and a household name around the world. 

She won Wimbledon in 2021, ten years after she won Junior Wimbledon and on the 50th anniversary of Goolagong Cawley’s maiden win. This made Barty the first Australian women’s champion since Goolagong Cawley’s second win in 1980. She wore a scallop-hem dress in tribute to Goolagong Cawley throughout the tournament to mark the occasion.

"It's hard to put into words how much of an impact Evonne has had on the culture of tennis in Australia and on me personally," Barty said ahead of the tournament in 2021.

"I don't think there is anyone more iconic in our sport.

"I am very proud to wear this commemorative collection from FILA in celebration not only of her momentous victories on the court, but also her incredible legacy off of it."

Six months later, Barty won the Australian Open in 2022, again as the first Australian woman to win since Goolagong Cawley in 1977 and first Australian player to win since 1978.

Back home, she had well and truly cemented herself as an icon of sport.

Australians were proud of her achievements, mob were too, but we were most proud of her - Ash Barty the person. The young Ngarigo woman. The kid in the photo with the racket over her shoulder holding a trophy and a big grin on her face.

That’s why when she announced her retirement at the peak of her career as world number one (for 121 weeks) in 2022, there was less of a collective sigh of disappointment and more a sigh of relief. She saw herself in the position to have the kind of self-awareness and opportunity to step away and focus on other things. 

Whether she intended to or not, she taught a lesson in real self-care and set an example.

Since retirement, Barty has become a mother, an author and launched her own foundation, the Ash Barty Foundation, where she hopes to continue to give back to her community and the next generation. And now, two years after her retirement, it’s been announced she will step back onto the court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club this year.

Barty will compete in Wimbledon’s invitational doubles, an exhibition event where she will be partnered with close friend and fellow retired player Casey Dellacqua. She will also join the BBC’s presenting team to cover the tournament.

Sitting courtside all those years ago, I was filled with an immense amount of pride for this woman.

This year I’ll wake up at the crack of dawn, sit in the grass for as long as it takes to watch her walk out and make us proud, all over again.