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Thank you Ash

Ash Barty’s retirement announcement has Jane Stephens pondering the tennis player’s importance in our lives.

How much do we love Ashleigh Barty? She wowed us on the tennis court. She impressed us even more off the court with her courtesy and grace. And now, at the top of the game and aged just 25, she is retiring.

Barty’s victory on home soil in January was like sunshine on a cloudy day, an event that filled our hearts and lifted our heads at a time when so much was bad about the world. She was cemented as the nation’s darling, a latter-day hero.

There is nothing false or overtly showy about her. She is small but triumphed over giants. She is calm but not emotionless, precise but still human.

It is said that her first tennis coach Jim Joyce encouraged his extraordinarily talented young charge to prioritise four things – be a good person, show respect for others, have fun and be happy.

As well as a great deal of winning, those four things were always on display.

We need heroes now more than ever. We have a fascination for them that starts in toddlerhood when dress-ups come in bright colours and superpowers come
with a mask. From our earliest memories, heroes save us and make the world a better, safer place – something little kids crave.

But it turns out we need them too. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung found the hero archetype was needed to offset the demons in our midst.

There has rarely been a more uncertain, fearful time than the era we are in. Disease, war, floods and rising costs of living have spread anxiety and depression like weeds.

Barty gave us something to cheer for, something to feel good about.

As an athlete, she shirked the made-up, done-up trend that pervades the tennis tour, but after wiping the floor with an opponent, she would put on her pretty engagement ring as soon as she finished a match.

Her career earnings were in the millions, but she could not have been more down-to-earth or courteous.

Heroes usually undergo a transformation to become that way: Peter Parker was bitten by a spider and Clark Kent was an awkward geek before miraculously morphing.

Barty transformed, too. She came back. And then she soared.

And now she is done with tennis.

Even heroes need to rest.

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Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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