Ash Barty’s parents, Josie and Rob, are the unsung heroes behind her Wimbledon victory – a fact brought home in heartbreaking fashion by Jelena Dokic.
Barty had a loving upbringing in which she was encouraged, not forced, towards becoming a tennis champion. She was taught to be a good person, first and foremost, rather than worry about trophies, fame and fortune.
Dokic had the opposite experience. She suffered abhorrent abuse at the hands of her father, Damir, who demanded success and was willing to extract it through tyranny.
“I just want to get this out before I fall apart,” Dokic said on Nine, having watched Barty lift Wimbledon’s Venus Rosewater Dish the previous night.
“I want to give a shout-out to her parents, Robert and Josie, because people underestimate the importance of family. She (Barty) talks about that all the time.
“As someone who didn’t have that support, it is so important. This will set an example for parents in Australia and around the world; not how to raise a champion but a genuinely wonderful human being.
“This is how you support them. You don’t pressure them, you’re there for them and this is why she’s there. So, big shout-out to them, well done.”
Dokic’s voice was trembling. There were tears in her eyes.
The former world No.4 was once a Wimbledon semi-finalist but anything that she achieved in tennis came despite her father’s despicable input. Her upbringing, rife with physical and emotional abuse, could hardly have been more different to Barty’s.
“I’ve just tried to live by my values that my parents instilled in me,” Barty said in her champion’s press conference at the All England Club.
“It’s more important to be a good person than it is a good tennis player. So I think that’s always my priority, making sure that I’m a good human being, and being able to learn from my parents and my siblings and my family was a massive part of my upbringing.
“I was just extremely lucky that I was able to have an opportunity to learn how to play the game of tennis but I think that being a good human being is absolutely my priority, every single day.”
While Barty was wowing centre court, beating Karolina Pliskova in three sets to win her second Grand Slam title and first at Wimbledon, Rob, Josie and the family were watching from the Gold Coast home of Barty’s manager, Nikki Craig.
The scene could not have been more normal. Proud parents and supporters scattered across the lounge setting and floor. Dog laying down on the couch, only raising his head inquisitively as a roar went up on match point.
Rob was drinking a Coke (no sugar). He and the family took a phone call from Ash within an hour of her victory, despite subsequent pomp and ceremony that included meeting Wills and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
The moment Barty’s family watched her become Wimbledon champion
Asked what he was most proud of about Ash, Rob said: “She’s such a lovely girl.
“She’s a wonderful human being, she cares deeply for her sisters and her mother. She wants to speak to them every day and that makes me so, so proud of her.”
Josie Barty said: “I’m just proud of how she treats everybody and she’s still the same person regardless of the tennis. She’s just amazing.”
The family were rapt with her Wimbledon win but it was truly secondary.
“Very, very happy, just so pleased for her for what she’s done, the effort she’s put in, the commitment. The whole team, they do an amazing job and what they’ve been able to achieve is just beyond belief,” Rob Barty said.
“[We celebrated] very quietly. We were down with Ash’s manager and her husband, down on the Gold Coast and we had dinner, watched the game and then had a glass of champagne to finish.”
Josie Barty chipped in: “Or two!”
Barty, the youngest of three sisters, was introduced to tennis at her parents age five. It was apparent that she had a special gift by her early teens.
Prodigious talent is a burden, even when treated with kindness and grace. Barty was the 2011 Wimbledon girls champion at age 15 but by 18, in 2014, she took an indefinite break from tennis.
Her parents didn’t force the issue either way. Her father was convinced that she would never play professionally again yet that was fine. He just wanted her to be happy.
A hit with best mate Casey Dellacqua reignited the spark, she returned in 2016 and the rest is history. Roland Garros champion. World No.1. Wimbledon champion.
“This is a real moment for me to acknowledge Ash’s parents, Josie and Rob,” Dellacqua said on Sports Sunday, breaking into tears.
“They are just the most beautiful parents and I think to all parents out there that have kids in sport, take a look at Josie and Rob and how they’ve raised their daughter. She’s got two sisters as well that she’s extremely close with and I know face-times them a lot.
“I really want to say to Josie and Rob, congratulations for not only raising a great tennis player but a great human being. I think that’s something that I really want to get across because Ash is.
“She respects everyone around her. From the moment I met her, she said her pleases and thank yous and all those little things that are really, really important in life, not just in sport.
“To Josie and Rob and the whole Barty family, congratulations and enjoy the moment.”
Dellacqua’s emotional tribute to Barty’s parents
Barty’s idol and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley, whose 1971 Wimbledon win she honoured with a special tribute outfit during her victorious run this year, knew she had found a gem when she first saw Ash as a little kid. She now considers her family.
They shared First Nations blood; Goolagong Cawley is of the Wiradjuri people, while Barty has Ngaragu blood on her father’s side. They also shared otherworldly talent and a similar life philosophy. Barty choked up when asked about Goolagong Cawley after the Wimbledon final, saying: “I hope I made Evonne proud.”
“She made me proud from the first time I saw Ash. She must have been about 13 and she was playing at the Australian Open,” said Goolagong Cawley, who was at Melbourne Park with her husband Roger.
“We saw one whole point and she showed all the skills. She did the slice, the volley, the smash, everything in one game and we both just looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, she’s got it, she’s going to be our next champion’. So, look at her now.
“I’m just so very much proud of Ash, the way she handles herself. Not just on the court but off the court, too. She’s a great Australian and everybody loves her.
“Ash, to me, is like a little sister and part of my family. I think we treat each other that way.
“She’s like a sister, I like supporting her. I did say to her, one of the last messages I sent to her was: ‘Dreams do come true and it will come true for you’.”
So it did.
Ash Barty. Champion tennis player. Champion human being.
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