2022 Don Award
It was almost the perfect punctuation mark on a career that inspired a nation and gave young hopefuls the belief that if you dare to dream, you can turn those dreams into reality.
Ash Barty’s tennis achievements will forever live in the annals of Australian sporting history, having reached the pinnacle of being the world No.1 and having been a three-time grand slam singles tournament champion on three different surfaces.
But for a sports star who has always exuded so much national pride and who has been so admired by her fellow countrymen and women, it was somehow fitting that her last major victory came at the 2022 Australian Open.
There was a sense of history about Barty’s victory, given it was the first time a local had won the Australian Open in 44 years.
And although we didn’t know it at the time, it was also her parting gift as a competitor to the country she dearly loves.
In a shock that took everyone by surprise – besides her closest circle of family and friends – Barty announced her retirement at 25, just two months after her Melbourne Park success.
It is these actions and achievements that have seen Ash Barty named as the winner of The Don Award for 2022. She is only the third athlete or team to have won the award more than once.
Ash Barty entered the 2022 ‘Summer of Tennis’ picking up where she had left off – as world No.1, having fulfilled a childhood dream of winning Wimbledon just six months earlier, and in pristine form.
She entered the Australian Open as the No.1 seed off the back of a win at the Adelaide International, not just in the singles tournament but also the doubles, with partner Storm Sanders.
She seemed to relish the pressure and expectation that shone on her in the early stages of the Australian Open, emboldened by the support she received rather than being weighed down.
Barty was seemingly unstoppable, not dropping a single set throughout the tournament, as she rocketed into the women’s final against American Danielle Collins.
The first set went according to script with Barty taking it out 6-3, but Collins threatened to change the narrative when she shot out to a 1-5 lead in the second set.
Here was where Barty’s competitive instinct and will-to-win kicked in again as she staged a remarkable comeback to take the set 7-2 (2) to ultimately take the title.
It was a drought-breaking moment for Australian tennis. Barty’s win was the first time an Australian woman had won her home-town title since Chris O’Neal in 1978.
“This is just a dream come true for me,” said an emotional Barty. “I’m so proud.”
“Once I was 1-5 down, I just wanted to try and shift and be a little more aggressive, adjust a couple of things tactically just to get momentum if we went to a third.
“Tennis is a funny game … things can change so quickly it feels like at times.”
Two months after winning the Open, Barty announced she was retiring from the sport on her social media channels, as well as in an emotional interview with close friend and former doubles partner, Casey Dellacqua.
She would be only the second female tennis player to retire while still ranked world No.1.
“I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level anymore. I am spent,” Barty explained.
As the legendary Don Bradman stated in his Inaugural Induction: “When considering the stature of an athlete or for that matter any person, I set great store in certain qualities which I believe to be essential in addition to skill.
“They are that the person conducts his or her life with dignity, with integrity, courage and perhaps most of all, with modesty. These virtues are totally compatible with pride, ambition and competitiveness.”
Ash Barty fits the bill on all counts and is a worthy winner of the 2022 The Don Award.
2019 Don Award
French Open champion and world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty AO is the winner of the 2019 The Don Award, judged the Australian sportsperson who through their performance and example has most inspired the nation over the past twelve months.
“I can’t quite believe it to be honest,” Barty said on receiving the award.
“When I look at my fellow nominees this year and people who have won ‘The Don’ Award before, I feel honoured to be a part of such an inspiring and talented group of Australians.”
Barty broke through for her first major championship win at the French Open, the first Australian woman to win that tournament since Margaret Court AO MBE 46 years earlier (1973).
In winning her next tournament, the Birmingham Classic, Barty rose to the world No. 1 ranking, only the second Australian woman to do so since Evonne Goolagong-Cawley AC MBE in 1976.
In reflecting on her 2019 year, Barty says whilst she’s the one on the court, it’s a team effort that resulted in her rise to the top of the world rankings.
“I am so proud of my team and I for what we have achieved. We have worked hard, experienced some amazing highs and lows and enjoyed every bit of the journey.”
“The perfect way for me to finish 2019 would be with a win representing Australia in the Fed Cup, then I’ll be ready to celebrate.”
23- year-old Barty joined Goolagong-Cawley, John Newcombe AO OBE, Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt AM becoming only the fifth Australian to have reached this pinnacle since the rankings were introduced in 1973, and the first since Hewitt in 2003.
Barty, who took a break from tennis for more than a year before returning three years ago with a ranking in the 600s, earned worldwide acclamation for this phenomenal turnaround and her humility, graciousness, poise and determination in both victory and defeat, characteristics highly valued by Sir Donald Bradman, after whom the award is named.
Barty says she holds all those values very highly and it adds to the significance of winning ‘The Don’.
“My parents taught me that being a good person is the most important thing in life, I try and live by that every day, Barty said.
“When I started playing tennis, my first coach Jim Joyce had four ‘rules’ – be a nice person, respect people and be respected, have fun and if you can play tennis that’s a bonus – these are still with me today. At the end of the day tennis is a game and it is meant to be fun. I try to walk away with a smile even after a tough day.”
In winning the 2019 ‘The Don’, Barty becomes the second tennis player to take home the coveted award, joining Pat Rafter who won in 2001.
Image Credit: Tennis Australia