Is it common for tennis players to retire young?
Tennis greats like Federer, 40, and Nadal, 35, are still playing professional tennis at a high level, but Ash Barty retired at 25 at the peak of her career.
Back in the early days of professional tennis, it was fairly common for tennis players to peak in their early or mid-20s and then start to sort of fade into the background and then eventually retire at around 27. These days, though, it’s become more common to see players continue to compete at a professional level long into their mid-30s.
Why do tennis players retire?
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are some of tennis’ greatest players right now, and all three are above the age of 33. Federer is still playing at peak level at the age of 40! We’ve seen women play well into their 30s, too. Look at Billie Jean King, who won her last title at the age of 39. Venus and Serena Williams are still competing and won their most recent titles at ages 35 and 38, respectively.
What remains more or less the same amongst tennis players is the reasons that they retire. Obviously, this varies based on the individual, but in general it’s one of a few things: physical injury, negative results (or in general just less positive comparatively), or personal reasons. So, age really doesn’t matter if a player is hitting his or her peak at age 30. They’re not likely to retire at that time if that's the case.
Ashleigh Barty, however, was just at her peak and at just 25 years old when she shocked the world by announcing her retirement from tennis. She had just won two of the last three Grand Slam titles, became the first Australian to win the Australian Open since 1978, averaged the most aces per game in 2022 (along with Qinwen Zheng and Hailey Baptiste), became one of the most exclusive players in the sport by winning titles on clay, grass, and hard courts, and is retiring in the midst of one of the longest winning-streaks of her career. She is the definition of quitting while you’re ahead. But why? With no physical injury or fading success on the horizon for Ash Barty, it had to be personal.
“I don’t have it in me, I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want, and kind of everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top of the level anymore," Barty said.
The young star said she was experiencing physical and emotional burnout, which is common in athletes. Dedicating time and energy to a sport requires intense training, diet, and lifestyle changes. Balancing all of the physical requirements and maintaining a healthy mental state can be challenging, especially for younger athletes. The culture is stressful and competitive, and there’s a lot of pressure to be perfect and mentally tough. Having the strength to recognize when it’s become too much and is time to step down is admirable in itself, and Ash Barty acknowledged as much.
"I just know I am spent, physically I have nothing more to give. That for me is success, I’ve given absolutely everything I can to this beautiful sport of tennis,” she said.
"I’m really happy with that. For me that is my success."