Ash Barty, a Tennis Timeout

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On Friday it emerged that Australian teenage tennis player, Ash Barty, is taking an indefinite break from tennis. The announcement via the Tennis Australia website has obviously produced a lot of conversation among tennis fans. So what does this indefinite break mean and should we really be speculating past the official announcement?

There is always a danger in columns such as these that we are left to speculate and expand on what very little evidence we have at our disposal. The release on the Tennis Australia website was a brief 211 words, including a statement from the Queenslander and a brief bio of her junior career and doubles success.

Ash Barty, a Tennis Timeout

In her statement on the Tennis Australia website, Barty says:

“Since returning from the US Open my team and I have decided that right now it is best for me to take a break from professional tennis. Obviously this has been a very difficult decision with the Australian Summer coming up but after a lot of thought we feel this is the right decision.”

She goes on to add:

“I’ve enjoyed some incredible experiences on the tennis tour and would like to thank my coach, Jason, and the team at TA for all of its hard work and support throughout my journey so far. I will be following results closely and hope that the Aussies have a great summer and start to 2015.”

Barty’s statement leaves out the reasons behind the decision but this isn’t an open invitation for media and fans alike to fill in the gaps, so to speak with their own narratives, as tempting as that is.

Tennis has rules as to the number of tournaments a young player can play for a reason. The last thing anyone wants is a repeat fall from the sport; a-la Jennifer Capriati style. This isn’t to say that Barty’s decision to step away from tennis has her on a similar path to the American, but there is an awareness as to the dangers of young players traveling the tennis circuit.

Whether we like it or not, Barty has every right not to expand on her reasons for taking time out of the game. She is, after all, only 18 years old. It can be hard to see teenagers as just that, teenagers, when they are performing on the world stage, doing what many of us can only dream of at such an early age.

Barty’s decision to take some timeout from tennis does open up questions though, as to the pros and cons of allowing such young people to embark on professional sports careers at such a young age. Perhaps Barty would benefit from taking a different path at this point, such as pursuing education.

It’s at times like these that the American tradition of college sports as a pathway into international competition appears an attractive one. Perhaps three years at University developing intellectually and physically is in the best interest of young athletes?

But here we are, speculating again. The problem is, tennis fans are human and it’s human nature to fill in the gaps with our own version of events or in this case speculation. Was she suffering from a burn out? Why take a break now, after qualifying for the US Open last month? Was the realization that life on the circuit, not getting wildcards to Grand Slams and having to suffer through qualifying was just all too much? These are just some of things I’ve been flicking past on the Internet in the last 24 hours.

Young Australian player, Nick Kyrgios, has also found himself drawn into the fray. Kyrgios is playing in Malaysia this week before taking a break leading into the Australian summer, a move that many on the Internet are applauding. Yes, Kyrgios’s break in the latter part of the year is probably a good move for him long term, but why can’t Barty’s decision to take a complete break from tennis also be good for her long term?

It’s only natural that there will be much speculation about Barty’s decision, but at the same time, she doesn’t need to offer any further explanation than what she has. Furthermore, she doesn’t need to be hauled into speculation that she’s suffering burn out or disillusionment. As shocked as tennis fans may have been by this announcement, it is clear that this is a decision that Barty has thought about and that she believes is in her best interest as a tennis player and as a person.

The problem of course is that when we stop speculating about things which we really don’t know all the details, then many people, myself included, would be out of a job. That’s the unfortunate nature of writing opinion pieces but it’s also a necessary evil. Media coverage should venture into speculation. Without speculation how else do we advance issues which are apart of the public domain? The key is to acknowledge what we are doing and be upfront.

Seeing Ash Barty return to the tennis court is obviously something we would all like to see. That return, though, needs to be in Barty’s time and it needs to be Barty’s decision.

Until then there is little we can do other than to wish her well and to carry on speculating.

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