American tennis icon John McEnroe says the Aussie Ash Barty’s decision to hang up the racquet and walk away while she was world No.1 “hurt the sport”.
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Barty was on top of the world having won Wimbledon in 2021 and then the Australian Open in 2022, only to drop the bomb that she was calling time on her tennis career.
The Aussie looked like an unstoppable force and like she could have reigned supreme for years to come.
But McEnroe says her decision to retire has robbed fans of what could have been an incredible rivalry for the women’s game.
Since the 26-year-old walked away, Polish star Iga Swiatek has taken the mantle of the best women’s player in the world.
Swiatek, 21, dominated the tour in 2022 as she reeled off an unbelievable 37 match winning-streak.
The two however only faced-off across the net from one another on two occasions, with Barty holding the 2-0 advantage. Both wins came before Swiatek really took flight.
“I think when Ash Barty retired that obviously sent shockwaves because here is a young woman at 25 that had come off winning Wimbledon, then winning the Australian Open and you think ‘Ok she’s going to the US Open in the next year and it’s just a matter of time’,” McEnroe told Eurosport.
“Obviously, I hope she’s happy, you never want to see someone walk away from it that young because then you’re like ‘what’s wrong with the women’s game that the No. 1 player walked away from the game aged 25’? We had that issue too because my buddy and my rival Bjorn Borg walked away and never played a major after 25. It would hurt me, and my career, I believe.”
The seven-time Grand Slam winners says without having the rivalry with Barty, Swiatek’s career could be hampered.
“Just not having that rival, I believe it hurts the sport,” he said.
“And there’s reasons that we can’t get into, there are a lot of reasons, there’s never one reason, and there’s no one for Ash Barty either, but hopefully everyone will look at things to make sure that these women on the tour are being taken care of to the best of their ability so they feel as comfortable as possible doing their thing.”
The 21-year-old who has three Grand Slam titles to her name enters the Australian Open as the red hot favourite to add to her already impressive trophy cabinet.
McEnroe says she’s comfortably the player to beat, but has warned her about overloading her calendar.
“I think right now she’s by far and away the best player, she’s a fantastic athlete, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young woman get slide into the corners, it reminds me of Novak quite a bit,” he added.
“So I would be surprised if she didn’t win a couple more French Opens at least, and she’s learned to play on hard courts so there’s no question that she’s the favourite in every tournament she plays. She’s got to be careful with her schedule, I don’t think she’ll go on 37-match winning streaks as much because now obviously people are going to be gunning for her more, but I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t win a bunch more majors.”
McEnroe won’t be in Aussie fans ears this season after he wasn’t brought to Australia by his employer ESPN.
He has been a regular in the commentary booth and facilitator of on-court interviews but won’t be on Australian screens.
However, two-time Australian Open winner Jim Courier will return.
He will join Todd Woodbridge, Lleyton Hewitt, Jelena Dokic, Dylan Alcott, Casey Dellacqua, Sam Smith, Alicia Molik, Mark Philippoussis, Darren Cahill and Peter Psaltis in the commentary booth.
“And now you take Carlos Alcaraz, who, for me, is the birth of a tennis player who has lived his life watching Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
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