Established in December 1985, the Sport Australia Hall Of Fame award stands as one of the most prestigious in a land of down under, with some of the most exceptional persons from the world of sport sharing space on that list.
On Thursday evening in Melbourne, the 23-year-old Ashleigh Barty joined the winners, becoming the second tennis player after Patrick Rafter in 2001 to earn this honor. Staying away from tennis for a couple of years and ranked outside the top-300 at the end of 2016, Barty has made an incredible effort in the last three seasons to get back where she belongs, improving her game regularly and becoming a Major champion and world no.
1 in 2019. Barty is the leader of the WTA Race at the moment, hoping to become the first year-end no. 1 Aussie since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002 and wrap up a historic season in the best possible way at the WTA Finals and the Fed Cup, with Australia hosting France in Perth in the battle for the trophy.
Ashleigh claimed The Don award in front of the fellow tennis star Dylan Alcott, Caleb Ewan who won a stage at Tour de France, NRL star Cooper Cronk, world surfing champion Stephanie Gilmore, Bathurst conqueror Craig Lowndes, Ashes winners Ellyse Perry and Tim Paine and Ariarne Titmus, swimming world champion.
"I can't quite believe it to be honest," Barty said. "When I look at my fellow nominees this year and people who have won the award before, I feel honored to be a part of such an inspiring and talented group of Australians.
It's been an incredible year, I'm incredibly humbled to be here tonight with so many legends of Australian sport. I feel very, very lucky to be such a small part of it. When I made a break from tennis, it was time to find myself as a person and as a pretty ordinary cricketer, but tennis is my calling.
I made friends for a lifetime in cricket, an incredible group of friends outside of tennis who couldn't have cared whether I could hit a tennis ball or not. It was nice to be around quality people and I promised myself when I came back into the sport that I would surround myself with only the best.
That's what I've been able to do. I have to thank my coach Craig Tyzzer; he stuck with me from day dot when I came back to tennis, at the time when I had no ranking, one full bag of racquets and an entire bag of gear.
I'm eternally grateful to Tyz for giving me that opportunity and that chance again. The last 12 months have been incredibly bizarre and unexpected. The best part about it is I don't have one regret. The year we've had has been extraordinary for both myself and my team."