Ashleigh Barty is on top. After dominating the court at the French Open, she outpaced Naomi and Serena and Venus and Sloane to become the number-one female tennis player in the world. But three years ago she wasn’t even in the game.
Barty went pro at 14 and won the Wimbledon junior title at 15—the word prodigy often followed her name. She was quickly anointed as the next great Australian tennis player on her way to GOAT status when, at 18, she unexpectedly left the game. “As professional tennis players, we are on the road for 30 weeks of the year. It can be tough when you love home as much as I do,” Barty says.
Professional athletes, for all their natural abilities, are serious workaholics. After all, to win championships you have to get into the office early and stay late. Every damn day. Given that she’d spent her teens as a perfectionist in a high-stress job, it’s no wonder Barty was burned out and wrestling with depression. So she quit.
In her time away from tennis, Barty sought treatment for depression and casually took up another pro sport: cricket. Refreshed after an 18-month break, she returned to the court, resuming her rise in the ranks and eventually earning a Grand Slam title and the number-one spot earlier this year. Had she not stepped away from tennis to take care of her mental health, there’s no way she’d be here, she told the New York Times. “It’s obviously a part of my life that I needed to deal with, and I feel like it was the best decision that I made at the time,” she said. “It was an even better one to come back.”
In being so open about her decision to step away, Barty has become a new kind of role model in sports—one who proves it’s not all about a breakneck rush to be the best. Now “it is all about balance for me,” Barty says. “I try to get home to Queensland whenever I can to see my family and friends—this is the most important thing for me.”
As much as her Grand Slam titles or her rankings, that will be part of Ashleigh Barty’s legacy. “I hope my legacy,” she says, “is to be remembered as someone who remained true to herself.”
Macaela MacKenzie is a senior editor at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram at @MacaelaMac and Twitter at @MacaelaMack.