Title IX Story: Ash Bertie and the Power of Walking Away

by Martin Rogers
Fox Sports Columnist

Editor's note: This story is part of a Fox Sports series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which was enacted into law on June 23, 1972. The series tells the stories of remarkable women in sports today, both celebrating the progress that has been made and acknowledging the obstacles that still remain.

Wimbledon is coming up, and the defending champions on the women's team won't be there. Not because of injury or because there will be no ranking points offered this year or because of covid, but because of the biggest move by the boss in tennis history.

This column has previously focused on former world number 1 Ashley Barty But somewhat sadly, this may be the last time he appears here. Bertie walked away from the game at the age of 25 in March and may not have reached his peak.

He did this at a time when he held two Grand Slam titles and was the architect of a huge lead over his nearest competitors at the top of the rankings. His success didn't make him a global megastar because it wasn't what he wanted. Friendly, courteous, understated and unfailingly genuine, according to a consensus on tour, Bertie's departure cemented a unique legacy.

Few make such a choice for elite athletes — certainly not these days, with all the prize money potential and commercial guarantees available to them.

“I think that seems like the most perfect way for me, my perfect way, to celebrate an amazing journey in my tennis career,” Bertie said in his retirement interview. “As a person, that's what I want. I want to chase some other dream that I've always wanted to do.”

That Bertie's career is over and he won't be at Wimbledon next week when southwest London's hallowed lawns once again welcome the world's best is not news to those who follow tennis. But some things are worth reflecting on, well, just because, especially when situations collide to give them a little extra context.

Tennis' thoughts on Britain's annual clash of posh culture and white-clad serve-volley lines come up quite closely with the anniversary of Title IX, which turns 50 on Thursday, and perhaps puts Barty's decision in its strongest perspective.

Title IX and its history-shaping effects have never lost their fascination, the original law enshrining — not perfectly but momentarily — the right to and expanding gender equality in education, opening the door to a new world of sports for millions of girls and women for generations to come.

Bertie is Australian and didn't attend a US college, yet if ever there was an empowerment story that fits Title IX principles, it's his.

“Australia has a rich history in tennis,” wrote tennis icon Billie Jean King upon hearing of Bertie's retirement. “(Berty) represents it very well. I have no doubt that he will continue to inspire and make a positive difference in the world.”

Bertie's breakthrough Slam was at the 2019 French Open. Last year's Wimbledon title was a long-held career goal, and her Australian Open crown earlier this season soothed the spirits of a tennis-mad nation that hadn't seen a homegrown women's champ in 43 years.

In King's day, the idea of ​​even the world's best being able to retire, amassing generational wealth within just a few years of excellence, was unthinkable. Bertie decided to leave for the best of reasons. He wanted more from life. And she could.

Getting to the top in any sport requires all-or-nothing dedication. Yet Bertie always benefited from the fact that tennis was not his everything. Such an approach allowed him to face adversity, take a step back and play two years of professional cricket early in his career, then return to the tour refreshed and with new clarity.

His style didn't lend itself to highlight-reel games but there was beauty in his skill, a blistering forehand that never seemed to miss, a power serve with pinpoint accuracy, a wicked backhand slice and the mental acumen to figure out tactical problems.

The position of women in modern sports remains complex. In Barty's home country of Australia, the women's versions of the two national sports — cricket and Australian rules football — have grown in profile, while they, much like tennis, have remained sister partners to the men's competition.

It's cute, though. Additional publicity is definitely progress. But, for example, how would you feel if the NBA and WNBA decided to hold their playoffs together, so that the women's finals could be held on the men's day off? Is this equality? Or printed?

As for Bertie, don't doubt for a moment what he's given up. Tennis is not particularly a game for young players, not anymore. On the WTA Tour, only three teenagers are ranked in the top 50, compared to 12 players aged 30 or older. Serena Williams continues her brilliance at the age of 33, reaching 12 Grand Slam finals. Bertie may have been in the elite game for another decade, earning millions before that.

Many top athletes do not need money. But that doesn't mean they don't want it.

Bertie didn't want that, though, at least not as much as he wanted a life out of the spotlight, with people who wanted to do the things he loved. With fiancé Gary Kissick, she bought a plot of land near one of Australia's top golf courses and swings a club most days.

He has already won a few club golf tournaments and has not ruled out taking the game more seriously.

Not everyone understood how he could leave tennis, just like that. Almost always, the great ones move on. There are many reasons to do this. The media and the public want to pursue destiny, to see how far greatness can be pushed. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are still going, sometimes shouting their protest with their bodies.

Bertie didn't want to do that. Other things – family, balance, her Aboriginal Australian heritage – are more important.

In honoring the history of Title IX, there are countless uplifting stories of women who fought for the right to compete on the same terms as men, empowered by the pioneering efforts of those who came before them.

Yet part of the struggle includes not being independent, the freedom to follow your own pace, the ability to love sports but not be owned by them. The right to spend a career fighting for greatness and, in this case, the choice to end it when it feels right to do so.

Martin Rogers is a Fox Sports columnist and author of the Fox Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

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