Barty, Klitschko, Cantona: 11 athletes who retired during their prime

The sporting world has been left stunned by Ashleigh Barty’s retirement from tennis aged 25.

The Australian is a three-time Grand Slam winner and triumphed at the Australian Open just two months ago.

Following her shock decision to step back from tennis, we pick 11 athletes who have retired from sport at their prime.

Ashleigh Barty

In an emotional video posted on social media, Ashleigh Barty revealed she was “absolutely spent” and “physically I have nothing more to give”.

“I’m so happy and I’m so ready. I just know at the moment in my heart, for me as a person, this is right,” she said. “I know that people may not understand it. I’m OK with that.

“Because I know that Ash Barty the person has so many dreams she wants to chase after that don’t necessarily involve travelling the world, being away from my family, from my home, which is where I’ve always wanted to be.”

Barty leaves tennis as the women’s world number one, a spot she first rose to in June 2019 and has held since September 2019.

The three-time Grand Slam winner has stepped back from tennis before, calling time on her career in the sport after the 2014 US Open.

Still just a teenager, she chose to play professional cricket for the WBBL team Brisbane Heat instead, before returning to tennis in 2016. It appears this time Barty has retired from the sport for good, however, and she will be greatly missed from the WTA Tour.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan caused shockwaves after announcing his retirement from basketball in October 1993, aged 30.

Jordan had just won three successive NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls, but the American revealed that he had lost the desire to play sport after the murder of his father in July 1993.

Fortunately for basketball fans, Jordan returned in 1995. He re-joined the Chicago Bulls, and helped the side to three more NBA titles from 1996 to 1998.

The American star retired for the second time in January 1999, but returned for two more NBA seasons from 2001 to 2003 as a member of the Washington Wizards.

Vitali Klitschko

Vitali Klitschko retired from boxing in 2013, aged 42. Granted, this may seem an appropriate age for an athlete to call it quits, but Klitschko was still at the top of his game.

He was the reigning world heavyweight champion, boasting a career record of 45-2 after winning his final 13 bouts.

Klitschko retired to take up a career in politics. He has been mayor of Kyiv and head of the Kyiv City State Administration since June 2014, and is currently playing an active role in Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion.

Marion Bartoli

French tennis star Marion Bartoli was an unexpected winner at Wimbledon in 2013. She had competed in 46 Grand Slams without winning a title, but that all changed at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Just 40 days after her triumph, Bartoli announced she was retiring from tennis, aged 28.

“I made my dream a reality and it will stay forever with me, but now my body just can’t cope with everything,” she said during an emotional press conference. “I have pain everywhere after 45 minutes or an hour of play.”

Marco van Basten

Marco van Basten is considered one of the greatest footballers of all time, but his career was cut short by injury when he was just 28.

After spending two agonising years on the sidelines, the Dutch star acquiesced to his ankle injury and announced his retirement in 1995.

Van Basten scored more than 200 goals during stints at Ajax and AC Milan, and won the Ballon d’Or three times.

At club level, he won three Eredivisie titles and the Cup Winners’ Cup with Ajax, and four Serie A titles and three European Cups with Milan.

Van Basten won Euro 1988 with the Netherlands, finishing the tournament with the Golden Boot. He was later the head coach of Ajax and the Netherlands national team.

Florence Griffith Joyner

After a period of relative success as a sprinter, Florence Griffith Joyner grabbed the world’s attention in 1988, achieving a world record time in the 100m at the US Olympic trials.

Once at the Olympics in Seoul, Griffith Joyner took home three gold medals, triumphing in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. She also earned a silver medal in the 4x400m relay.

Griffith Joyner was the name on everyone’s lips. She was named The Associated Press’ “Female Athlete of the Year” and Track and Field magazine’s “Athlete of the Year.”

Aged 29, Griffith Joyner announced her retirement in February 1989, citing new business opportunities away from the track.

Her retirement attracted suspicion, as did her sudden ability to set world record times. Griffith Joyner, who sadly died in 1998, always insisted she never used performance enhancers.

Björn Borg

Björn Borg was one of the most iconic tennis players in the 1970s and 1980s. He rose to fame while still a teenager, winning his first Grand Slam when he was just 18.

The Swede became the first man in the Open Era to win 11 Grand Slam titles, doing so between 1974 and 1981. This included five Wimbledon titles and six French Open titles.

Having won both the French Open and US Open in 1981, it came as a surprise when Borg announced in January 1983 that he was retiring from tennis at the age of 26. He cited a lack of motivation for his shock decision.

Eric Cantona

French midfielder Eric Cantona, one of the most iconic footballers of all time, unexpectedly announced his retirement in 1997 at the age of 30.

Cantona was not hampered by injury, however. Instead, he had lost his passion for football.

“I didn’t feel the passion for the game,” he told JOE’s Unfiltered podcast in 2017. “To play at the highest level, you have to be very careful about what you eat, what you drink, what time you go to bed, what you think. You have to be concentrated on the game.”

After spells at Auxerre, Marseille and Leeds United, Cantona joined Manchester United in 1992, winning four Premier League titles in five years with the club.

He pursued a career in cinema after his retirement, and won the 2005 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup as player-manager of the French national team.

Mia Hamm

Few in football have as many accolades as Mia Hamm. During an illustrious career, the forward won two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals, alongside a plethora of individual honours.

Hamm was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002, US Soccer Female Athlete of the Year five years in a row, and the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year in 1997 and 1999.

In 2001, Hamm was involved in the launch of the Women’s United Soccer Association, the first professional women’s soccer league in the United States.

Hailed as the star of the league, she played for Washington Freedom from 2001 to 2003, winning the WUSA title in her final season with the club.

Just months after winning her second Olympic gold medal with the US at Athens 2004, Hamm retired from football, aged 32.

Nico Rosberg

Just days after winning the 2016 Formula One World Championship, Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg announced his retirement from the sport. He revealed the news at the annual FIA prize-giving gala in Vienna.

“I want to take the opportunity to announce that I have decided to end my Formula 1 career in this moment here,” he said. “I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right.

“For 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’, to become Formula 1 world champion. Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target… and now I’ve made it.”

The German star moved into driver management, television punditry, and became an eco-entrepreneur.

Justine Henin

There are a lot of parallels between Ashleigh Barty and Justine Henin. Like Barty, Henin retired aged 25, while still world number one.

The Belgian star made the decision just weeks before the French Open in 2008, a Grand Slam she had won four times. Henin also earned two US Open titles and an Australian Open title during a successful career.

“I’m young in life, but starting to get old on the tour,” she said. “I’m growing up and I need different things. Even physically, I don’t recover as well as I did when I was 20. That’s normal.

“Now I’ve been playing tennis for 20 years and it’s been my whole life but as a woman, as you get older, you need to think about the future. A new future is ahead and I won’t go back on this decision.”

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