Australians will have to get used to seeing it – Grand Slam tennis without our former world number one Ash Barty.
- The French Open will be the first Grand Slam event on the calendar since the surprise retirement of Australian Ash Barty.
- Only two Australian players – Alex de Minaur and Ajla Tomljanović – are in the top 50 of the world rankings.
- Australian coaches Roger Rasheed and Wally Masur hope the next generation of players can leap up the rankings on tour.
As Roland-Garros approaches, this is the first major tennis tournament without Barty with the 126th edition of Roland-Garros in Paris.
Along with that comes a changing of the guard around the world as Tennis Australia looks to the future to try and fill the void left by Barty at the top of the sport.
So who’s left to carry the Australian flag on the international tour?
As things stand, Australia lack consistent power at the top after Barty. Alex de Minaur, just 23, is in the top 50, ranked 21st in the ATP rankings, well ahead of the rest of the Australian field: James Duckworth (70), Nick Kyrgios (76), Jordan Thompson (82), Thanasi Kokkinakis (85) and John Millman (93). After de Minaur, the latter are all 26 and over.
On the women’s side of the table, only Ajla Tomljanovic is in the top 100, at No. 44 in the WTA rankings – just outside the top seed at Roland Garros.
Only two other Australian women have been guaranteed places on the red floor with Astra Sharma (144) and wild card Daria Saville, who jumped nearly 500 places in an injury-free run from 627 at the start of January to 130 currently .
Australians grateful to have seen Barty
Tennis coach Roger Rasheed – who has helped Lleyton Hewitt, Grigor Dimitrov, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – knows what the Aussies will miss.
“For us tennis fans and sports enthusiasts, it’s kind of sad not to see what Ash Barty does on a daily basis at major events,” Rasheed said.
“There’s a moment when you know everyone is different, and you know we’re very happy that she has the chance to enjoy her life as a young woman in a different way.”
Rasheed said that while Barty won’t tour the tennis circuit, Ash Barty’s “brand” could be used to carry on the inspirational legacy for the next generation.
“(Barty is) a brilliant role model and message. Now you have that to work and be used in so many different areas.
“It will be interesting to see the new breed of athletes that come out.”
“A blow” for Australian tennis
There is only one Ash Barty. Trying to replace the irreplaceable will be a time-consuming task, at least for the coffers of Tennis Australia who will be the losers when he retires shock in March. not even two months after breaking a 44-year title drought at the Australian Open.
Australia coach, commentator and former player Wally Masur says it’s time to look to the next generation to fill the job vacated by Barty.
“Yeah, it’s a blow to tennis, absolutely,” Masur said.
“She’s had so much success, but what she brought to the sport, you know, her style of play was quite unique on the women’s tour. It’s a really appealing style of play and she’s such a graceful champion . It’s a big hole… an even bigger hole here in Australia.”
Waiting for the next generation to make their mark
While it’s not uncommon for the Australian tennis scene to have bright lights, Masur reflected on players like Pat Cash, Lleyton Hewitt, Pat Rafter, Mark Philippoussis, Sam Stosur and Barty as the most successful individuals in these last few years, but a short-term focus will be watching the next generation of players trying to take the next step by forging their way and solidifying a place in the top 100.
On the men’s side, there are six Australians in the 100-200 range, while on the women’s side there are six in the same range, and another five in the 200-250 standings – a far cry from Barty’s ability.
With the French Open main draw starting on Sunday, nine Australian women and three Australian men competed to qualify for a place in the main draw. However, only world number 161 Jason Kubler made the cut for his first main draw appearance on the clay surface.
“(It’s) about getting the next generation to step up and make their mark.”
One of the next generation is 20-year-old Olivia Gadecki.
After showing promising potential last season, Gadecki was dropped from a wildcard spot at the Australian Open this year for refusing vaccination protocols.
The youngster was subsequently knocked out of French Open qualifying this week but Masur played down expectations that she would be ‘the next big thing’, despite going from no ranking to 162 in the past two years .
“Does she have game? Absolutely. She’s powerful and strong. Almost like a requirement on the women’s tour. She’s technically sound. She’s a super girl who played her heart out in 2021.
“We are a great tennis nation and obviously we would like to stay there and there is a lot of work to be done.”
For now at least, the search is on to discover the next Ash Barty, but when will Tennis Australia have more questions.