Fearless French Open Champion: Ash Barty

Warwick Fairfax

June 12, 2019

On Saturday, June 8, 23-year-old Ashleigh Barty won the French Open Tennis Championship. She is the first Australian to win the French Open in more than 45 years.

What is amazing about Barty is that she is only 5’5” in an era where many of the great women tennis players are closer to 5’10”. Despite the height disadvantage, she has one of the stronger serves on tour. She wins matches with a combination of her serve, her groundstrokes, her variety, and her never say die attitude.  But it is also her character and the backstory that make her Championship win at the French Open so compelling.

Barty is of Aboriginal heritage, the first Aboriginal tennis player since the great Evonne Goolagong. Barty has said that it would be “amazing to get more kids enjoying tennis across Australia within indigenous communities.”

Barty was one of the top junior players when she took a break after winning junior Wimbledon in 2011. She was burnt out and had lost her passion for the game. She took a three-year break and when she came back to tennis, it was on her terms. As one writer put it, “The bravest decision Ash Barty ever took was to walk away from the thing she did the best.”

Ben Crowe, a professional mentor and leadership coach to sports stars and corporate leaders who has worked with Barty, says, “For me, her humility, her gratitude, her respect, and her acceptance are her greatest attributes. Her goal is to be a good person and, with that foundation, go after her dreams. That is 100% authentic.  She will always have that humility and respect, rather than getting caught up in ego and pride.”

Not only is Barty authentic and grounded, she has no fear. Earlier this year, before her recent success, Barty told a press conference that she fears nobody in women’s professional tennis. When asked about this, she paused, and with an intensity in her eyes, she replied forcefully, slowly, and quietly, “Fear won’t get you anywhere, mate.”

Ash Barty embodies the ideal of the great Australian cricketer, Sir Donald Bradman – a person who is a decent individual and competitor.  He said, “When considering the stature of an athlete or for that matter any person, I set great store in certain qualities which I believe to be essential in addition to skill.  They are that the person conducts his or her life with dignity, with integrity, with courage, and perhaps most of all, modesty. These virtues are totally compatible with pride, ambition, and competitiveness.”

Lessons from Ashleigh Barty

  1. Stay Courageous: When Barty says she fears nothing, it does not seem arrogant. The key is to have your identity in something more transcendent — something other than the pursuit of your goal or vision — while at the same time giving it your all.
  2. Have Strong Character: Character is everything. Having a mixture of humility, gratitude, and respect is important, as is being authentic. As you are fearlessly pursuing your dreams, keep them in perspective — be grounded and know who you are.

Ash Barty is a great role model, not only for young aspiring tennis players, but for all of us. Pursue your dreams without fear, but know who you are and stay grounded. After all, it is this that has proved a winning combination for Ash Barty.

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