It’s taken a long time, but a young Australian has finally risen to the top of the tennis world. Young Australian of the Year 2020, Barty has reached number one in women’s professional tennis while managing to avoid many of the traps such success can lay for the unwary. As such, she has become an inspiring role model for women around the world.

But it was a sometimes difficult and trying journey for Barty on her way to the top. Born in 1996, she began playing tennis at just four years old and immediately showed promise, appearing at junior tournaments around the country. She played her first professional match in 2010 at 14, and her first Junior Grand Slam event in 2011 at the Australian Open, but lost her opening match to third seed Lauren Davis. Undeterred, she went on to win the Junior Grand Slam title at Wimbledon at 15, and became just the second Australian to win the girls’ singles event since Debbie Freeman in 1980.

After some years on the professional tennis tour, she decided to take time out from the sport, and switched to semi-professional cricket in Queensland. But after a season of cricket she decided to return to the professional tennis tour, and began her steady climb to the top.

“That’s the beauty of life, the beauty of the journey that we’re on – every day you can try and improve yourself.” – Ash Barty

Barty had a strikingly successful year in 2019, winning the Miami Open, the French Open and the world number one ranking. Then in November she won the WTA tournament in Shenzhen, China, pocketing a cool $6 million for her efforts. At year’s end she led the Australian team to the finals in the Federation Cup.

Astonishing sporting success, then, but for those close to her and those who share the tournament circuit, it’s not just her talent on the court, but simply that she’s a considerate person, untarnished by the attention, riches and media exposure that now follows her everywhere.

Indeed, her long-time coach, Craig Tyzzer, recently declared in an interview with AAP that the young Australian tennis star is “a much better person than she is a tennis player. For me, that’s been the key … A lot of people talk about her talent and her tennis, but talent only gets you so far. It’s really her character that has taken her to where she is right now,” he said.

It’s that easygoing character that also makes her one of the tennis tour’s most popular players, which she attributes to her family and loyal support team, including Tyzzer. “Mum and Dad have taught me everything that I’ve learned in life. They taught me the values to live by. I feel like I have very strong values because of them. I’m so lucky to have such a supportive network from my family … That’s the beauty of life, the beauty of the journey that we’re on – every day you can try and improve yourself,” she told AAP in a recent interview.

She sets an example to women around the world of humility in the spotlight of success, of knowing her true self, and understanding the value of the relationships in her life.

Honourable mentions

Ellie Simmonds

She was pushed to the brink of retirement at the last Paralympic games, but this British swimmer’s career isn’t over yet. Simmonds, who has the genetic disorder achondroplasia, is training for the 2020 Games in Tokyo where she hopes to back up the gold and bronze medals she won in 2016.

Ash Barty and Ellie Simmonds among inspiring athletes
Ellie Simmonds. Image: Getty.

Megan Rapinoe

Rapinoe became a household name last year when the US national soccer team she is captain of won its second consecutive Women’s World Cup. The midfielder is a champion of LGBTIQ+ rights and has played an integral role in the US women’s team’s fight for pay that is equal to the men’s side.

Ash Barty and Megan Rapinoe among inspiring athletes
Megan Rapinoe. Image: Getty.

From CEOs and politicians to humanitarians and athletes, we profile 30 extraordinary trailblazers creating major change in 2020. Ash Barty, Ellie Simmonds and Megan Rapinoe are among the iconic women we're celebrating this International Women's Day.