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Ash Barty makes her Wimbledon comeback.

Australian tennis champ Ash Barty has made a poignant return to Centre Court at Wimbledon, describing it as her “favourite place”.

Three years to the day since she became Wimbledon ladies’ singles champion, Ash Barty stepped out alongside best mate Casey Dallacqua in the legends’ invitation doubles on Wednesday (local time) – and she couldn’t have looked happier.

 

 

 

 

The 2021 champion mixed missed easy volleys and ballooned forehands while also providing tantalising glimpses of the quality we’ve missed since she retired.

Barty’s performance was enough to start whispers among some of the audience, and the media. Asked after the match about when she might make her real return to tennis, Barty was quick to shut down the chatter.

“You guys are killing me. I don’t know how much more. Anyone have a thesaurus for a word that I can use for ‘no’?’,” she said.

“No, mate. No, I’m not.”

The Australian buddies beat Andrea Petkovic and Magdalena Rybarikova 5-7 6-3 (10-7) but, in truth, nobody really cared about the score.

It was just uplifting to see the 28-year-old, now a mum of a one-year-old son, having a bit of fun with her old pal, chuckling and apologising profusely for another rusty error or looking just the tiniest bit pleased with herself for the odd glorious memory-evoking winner.

“It felt incredible. Obviously, this is the place that holds some of my most cherished memories, and it’s really nice to be back with my best mate on the court. It’s pretty special,” Barty said.

She learned the match had been switched to Centre Court in a last-minute email.

“It was a very nice surprise. I was making lunch for my son at our house when I got an email come through saying we’d been shifted to Centre,” she said.

“I called Casey straight away and said, ‘This is a bit different to what we signed up for!’. But we were excited.

“It’s a beautiful court. It’s, in my opinion, the best court in the world. I was very grateful and very fortunate that we were able to share an experience out there again today together.”

With cruel irony, it was compatriot Alex de Minaur’s hip-injury withdrawal from his quarter-final match against Novak Djokovic that meant Barty was asked to step in and bring a touch of star quality to help fill the void on the main stage on Wednesday.

“I’m broken for Alex,” she said afterwards.

“You could see how much it means to him. Like he said, this was the biggest match of his life. This was the opportunity that he had worked so hard for. To have something awful like that happen …”

But he is a resilient athlete. He’s a ripping guy. I know that this will be a challenge, but there will be a silver lining somewhere along the way that he’ll grow from, absolutely.

“He’s too intelligent and too driven and passionate and motivated to not learn from it and not grow from it.

“It hurts, though. Absolutely you can’t hide behind the fact that it’s awful. You have to be able to accept it.”

De Minaur has what he described as a “unique” hip injury that could keep him out for three to six weeks. It threatened to sideline him even longer, perhaps for four months, if he had tried to play against seven-times champion Djokovic.

Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash told the BBC: “It’s disappointing, hugely disappointing for Alex, who has got himself into a position where he feels he can compete at the end of grand slam tournaments and has a shot of getting to finals and semi-finals.

“He is playing Djokovic, but there is a question mark about Novak’s fitness as well, so you think this is possibly the best opportunity Alex has getting to go further.

“You can see he was very devastated – but he has made the right decision. It was bad luck for him, bad luck for Centre Court and the crowd. But really good news for Novak Djokovic.”

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