From the Principal

Ashleigh Barty, Bernard Tomic and the mystery of destiny

At the breakfast table this morning I reflected on the wonderful news of Ash Barty’s debut Grand Slam win at the French Open tennis and her rise to now number 2 woman in the world rankings! Despite having risen from a lowly ranking in the mid-600’s three years ago, she is anything but an overnight success and while clearly a prodigious talent, having won Junior Wimbledon as a 15-year-old, that’s not what I believe sets her apart.

In what some players would see as a burden, Barty has taken up the torch of leading Australian womens’ (and mens’) tennis leadership from Samantha Stosur and is exercising it in a way that harks back to restrained and humble past Australian players of both genders. She has a voracious work ethic and competitive spirit, is calm and thoughtful, possessed of great humility and has an extraordinary capacity (for an elite athlete in a solo sport) to think of, and do for, others. She is also firmly grounded. The stories of her regular meetings with her first ever coach for a steak dinner at the Breakfast Creek Hotel every time she is back in Queensland are legend, and as an indigenous woman, she is also making significant personal commitments to the progress of her people in Australia.

Her disposition could hardly be a starker contrast to another Queenslander, Bernard Tomic. I acknowledge the media will often amplify any good story, but Bernard and his father John have given them many. I also know nothing of Bernard’s personal circumstances and it seems likely to me that there have been forces that have shaped him over which he had no control. However, it’s clear he does not enjoy doing something for which he too is prodigiously talented; in fact he is clearly disengaged with his tennis and, it seems, disinterested in his life beyond bright and shiny possessions – a saddening situation.

What might have driven the difference between the two Queenslanders? It seems to me that this is likely built on responses to, and foundations established during, difficult periods. Like Tomic, Barty also fell out of love with tennis for a time. As her former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua wrote in The Age, she continued to work hard and made three Grand Slam doubles finals during this time but was clearly not enjoying it. Barty’s decision was to turn away from the money, the privilege and the certainty of what she was very good at, to take a break and take up something she had never done before – cricket. While clearly at a low point in her life, she took a measured risk and re-discovered herself. I can imagine this must have concerned her parents, her coach and her friends, but nonetheless, she did it.

It seems that Tomic has not felt this is an option open to him and he remains rooted in the same place, doing the same thing, making the same decisions and feeling the same about his tennis gift. Whatever pressures are driving him to remain where he is, they are not leading him to live a fulfilling life.

History shows Barty only stepped out of tennis for a year or so, and her cricket was ultimately very successful. But I suspect that through the lows of the end of her first period as a tennis pro, and the difficulty, challenge and adventure of moving into the unknown, she re-discovered what was important to her. As Casey Dellacqua also wrote, she surrounds herself with kind, thoughtful and grounded people (and listens to them). Ash Barty’s story is one of hope and optimism as well as one of impressive personal qualities. It now seems to also be one of enjoyment and a pathway to the fulfilment we all seek in our lives.

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