There were tears and beers at the West Brisbane Tennis Centre this week as retired tennis champion Ash Barty and her long-term coach bid farewell to the venue where her journey to Grand Slam glory began.
The Ipswich-born legend recently retired after reigning as World No.1 and winning the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon.
Her journey began at the West Brisbane Tennis Club in Archerfield and this week she closed the chapter on her days with the club.
Barty and her coach Jim Joyce made a promise to share one last beer on the court where it all began for the retired Australian Open and Wimbledon champ
After almost 70 years, the Joyce family – including Barty’s long-term coach and friend Jim Joyce – have sold the centre, which will no longer be used for tennis.
Before the gates were padlocked for good, Barty and Joyce spent time with the local juniors before having a private hit-out on the courts.
Joyce has been flooded with pride with every achievement Barty has notched up, but said having that last afternoon at the club with his prodigy would provide the more enduring memories.
Barty attended the final junior finals night at the West Brisbane Tennis Centre before it closed
‘That afternoon will mean as much to me as a lot of her big wins,’ Joyce told the Courier Mail.
‘It was just bloody wonderful. There were no seats there because it was all gone. We just stood and chatted about her life and mine, had a bit of a hug and off she went and I pushed the locks across the gate.
‘For all she done over the last year at times it still feels as if she is still that little kid I coached. I feel emotional just talking about it.’
The feelings are mutual for Barty, with the club being a major part of her DNA.
‘It was a real full-circle moment and really emotional to sit with Jim and think how far we have come in 21 years. It was pretty amazing. You think of all the kids Jim and his family have coached for 50 years that have left with that positive reinforcement,’ she said.
‘Every one of those courts has a special memory for me. Court four and five was where I hit my first tennis balls.
‘Two and three were where I played my first fixtures and men’s fixtures. So many funny times. The kids were playing handball the other day where we played 20 years ago. This beautiful, beautiful place hasn’t changed.’
Barty won her first trophy when she was just six years old and showed prodigious talent after hitting her first ball at the West Brisbane Tennis Centre
The rise of Barty all started when she trotted into the West Brisbane Tennis Centre as an eager six-year-old.
At the time, Joyce was wary because of her age and small frame, so he decided to take her aside onto a separate court to see if she could handle herself.
Joyce gently lobbed a ball over the net and Barty smashed it back in his direction with such ferocity that he knew immediately he had a natural talent on his hands.
However, Barty’s rise did not come quickly. Just six years ago you could book tennis lessons with her for just $16.50 in a school holiday program she ran with Joyce.
Barty claiming a memorable Australian Open win this year before shocking the tennis world by retiring from the sport at the peak of her powers
It was one of her first forays back into tennis after a brief hiatus playing cricket with the Brisbane Heat.
Joyce knew Barty had to find her own way back to the sport she loved and could not be pushed. In the end, he was glad she found her passion again.
‘It would have been the biggest tragedy in tennis in Australia, if not sport, if she hadn’t come back and played – and just never played again,’ he said.