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A letter to: Ash Barty

Michael McGirr  |  14 February 2020

Dear Ash Barty,

You have shared so much with us I’d thought I might share a little something with you.

You were a household name in Australia well before you made it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2020. Your celebrity exploded when you won the French Open, the first Australian to win at Roland Garros since Margaret Court in 1973. It was great watching your press conferences as you moved through the rounds. The media took a little while to realise that you were sneaking a Disney reference into your answers but eventually they caught on and everyone laughed. You were clearly taking your tennis seriously. But you weren’t making the mistake of taking yourself too seriously.

In April, you will turn 24, a young age to be able to say that you have been playing tennis for 20 years. You grew up without much sense of privilege or entitlement in a place called Springfield. This is not the same Springfield as the one made famous by Homer Simpson, although I’m sure you’d enjoy that coincidence.

Your Springfield is an unpretentious suburb of the City of Ipswich in Queensland. Your father, Robert, worked for his indigenous community, the Ngorigo people. Your mother, Josie, the daughter of English migrants, was a radiographer. When you speak in public, it is clear that their love has helped you develop your sense of self. You have remarked that as a child, whether you won or lost, they would always say ‘I love to see you play.’ The result was not the main thing. Enjoying life was.

You became world number one in the ATP rankings, the first Australian women to achieve this since your fellow indigenous player, Evonne Goolagong Cawley. So there was a lot of expectation focused on you coming into this year's Australian Open when you lost to Sofia Kenin in the semi-finals. You seemed to cope with grace and dignity. Your philosophy has always been that we can learn a lot from setbacks and mistakes.

Yes, I know that tennis is mentioned in the Bible when Moses served in Pharoah’s court. But I’d like to share something better than a cheap gag. I have no idea if you are religious in any way but I’d love to introduce you to St Ignatius.

Ignatius had plenty of ups and downs but he used a simple technique to keep his sense of balance and direction, a sense that God was leading him and not his own self-interest. He called it the examen but I like to call it STASH after the first letter of each of the steps.

It reminds us how much is really stashed away in any day. It needs about 10 minutes a day but I know discipline is not a problem for you.

  1. Stillness. Stop for a while. Be present in the moment. Let the world stop buzzing in your ear.
  2. Thanks. What are you grateful for today? Are there things for which it is difficult to give thanks?
  3. Awareness. Now go a bit deeper. What are the most significant things happening in your mind and heart. Wait long enough to get past the superficial level. Be discerning.
  4. Sorrow. How could you be more loving and compassionate, more wise and less fearful?
  5. Hope. Look ahead with a bit of fresh energy.

Ignatius believed that God also loves to watch us play.
I hope you might think that too!

With heartfelt gratitude,

Michael McGirr

Michael McGirr is Dean of Faith and Mission at St Kevin’s College in Melbourne, and author of a number of books including the recently-released Books that Saved My Life. (Text Publishing).

See Talking to Ash Barty – questions and activities for some classroom activities related to this article.

 

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