She may be retired from tennis but Ash Barty keeps showing she’s a deadset champion.
Since shocking the world by announcing she was quitting the sport at just 25, Barty has kept busy, adding a local golf title to her mantelpiece, doing a shoey at a charity golf day and splashing down at the AFL’s Big Freeze event dressed Rafiki from the Lion King.
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But there’s little doubt the Aussie superstar still has some pull in the tennis arena, as questions are asked about who will open proceedings this year on Center Court at Wimbledon — the tournament Barty won last year.
The opening match on Center Court at the All England Club usually features the defending champion but with Barty retired, it is yet to be confirmed who will get that honor next week.
After the grand slam was canceled in 2020 because of Covid, Barty opened the tournament in 2021, despite not winning in 2019.
Simona Halep, who won the 2019 title, was ruled out of last year’s tournament through injury, allowing her Aussie rival to take her place.
It was something that didn’t sit too comfortably with Barty at the time.
“With all my heart I wish Simo was here to do it (start on Center Court) herself,” she told the BBC after her three-set victory over veteran Carla Suarez Navarro. “She’s a champion. She’s earned the right to open this court
“To be given the honor when I haven’t fully deserved it, I wanted to come out here and pay respect to that.
“It’s an honor and a privilege and I was extremely humbled when Jamie (tournament director Baker) asked me to come out here and play on this beautiful court. I couldn’t be more proud to be out here.”
Barty’s former coach Craig Tyzzer hinted the Queenslander may have looked to return the favor this year, now Halep is back in action.
Replying to a tweet from The Tennis Podcastwhich asked who should nab the first Center Court match, tennis analyst and Halep’s former coach Darren Cahill wrote: “This should be Simona Halep.
“Covid wiped out the 2020 championships & unable to play last year due to injury so Ash Barty was given the honor. With Ash retired, the privilege and honor should go back to Simo. She has earned it as 2019 champ.”
Tyzzer responded: already “Totally agree Killer and I think someone may have requested it,” followed by a winking face emoji.
Not needing too much effort to read between the lines, Cahill wrote: “That would be awesome. Quite typical of that someone.”
Tennis reporter Craig Gabriel replied to Tyzzer: “Give that someone an AO (Order of Australia). Oh they already did.”
All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt said in April no decision had been made, confirming it would be: “The world No 1, runner-up or other prominent players.”