(Reuters) – Winning a Grand Slam is the ultimate goal for most tennis players but Ash Barty says there is no greater honour than representing your country and the world number one sees the Olympic Games as the pinnacle of sport.
Barty, the 2019 French Open champion, cannot wait to pull on Australia’s green and gold colours when the Tokyo Games begin in July after the event was postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tennis is normally an individual sport though women players also have the opportunity to represent their country at the annual Billie Jean King Cup.
“The green and gold for me is always the pinnacle,” Barty told Olympics.com. “I’ve had a very small taste of it, but I think the Olympics is the pinnacle of every sport.
“It’s a remarkable place to be able to test yourself against the best in the world. All of the best athletes in the world come together in one place, which is quite special.
“And I think the experience will be spine tingling.”
Barty was not even 5-years-old when Cathy Freeman, wearing a green, white and gold bodysuit, won the 400m gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics but the indigenous track star made a lasting impression on her.
“I remember her outfit … and, not really knowing a lot (else) of what was happening being such a youngster,” said Barty, who is the first indigenous Australian since Evonne Goolagong Cawley to top the world rankings.
“And I think every time you see that outfit now in Australia it’s iconic and everyone knows exactly the purpose of it. It’s a really, really special memory to be etched in my brain.”
Barty had an opportunity to talk to Freeman after exiting the semi-finals at her home Grand Slam in Melbourne in 2020.
“She’s been an idol for me growing up,” Barty added. “She’s been an idol and an icon for so many young indigenous girls and boys all across Australia.
“To be able to connect with her and actually have a relationship with her personally has been amazing. I think everyone knows and remembers where they were when she won that incredible final.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Berhampore, India; editing by Peter Rutherford)