Ashleigh Barty makes emotional return to childhood tennis court
There were tears and beers at the West Brisbane Tennis Centre this week as retired tennis champion Ashleigh 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.
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Her journey began at the West Brisbane Tennis Club in Archerfield and this week she closed the chapter on her days with the club. 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.
"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."