BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Ash Barty was flying home across Australia following the Fed Cup final when she saw the early signs of devastation from the wildfires that are still raging in large parts of the vast island continent.
So the problem hasn’t just dawned on her, the highest-profile tennis star in Australia, like it may have for some players arriving for the season-opening events. But the scale and gravity of the situation is really hitting home.
Barty went to a nearby animal shelter after she returned from the Fed Cup loss to France in Perth last November and donated money, because at that stage animals were the main casualties of the flames. Now, with Australia in the grip of its worst wildfire season in recorded history and with a human death toll of 24, she’s joining the fundraising for a bigger relief effort.
The No. 1-ranked Barty is donating any prize money she wins at the Brisbane International, her home tournament, to the Australian Red Cross for the recovery effort. The winner of the tournament, which starts Monday, will earn more than $250,000.
“It’s been really terrible, it really has. For me this started two or three months ago,” Barty said of the damage caused by what Australians commonly call bush fires. “We have to remember, this has been going on for a long time across our whole country. The first I saw of it was actually flying home … to the east coast and we could see some of the smoke and some of the fires.
“Obviously the worst of it is still out there at the moment. Now it’s not just the wildlife, it’s also affected Australians with their lives and their homes.”
Barty said most players would agree the timing of the tennis was less important than safety.
“First and foremost, the reason that there is smoke in the air is what’s most devastating at the moment for our country,” she said. “It’s just a really tough time. Tennis is a sport, it’s a game that we play, and there are certainly a lot of bigger things going on in Australia right now that we need to take care of.
“So, I mean, if it meant that we were delayed by a day or two … it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that Australians stay safe and we kind of sort out the bigger issues.”
Tennis “is a game that we love, yes, and we try and be the ultimate professionals and do everything that we can, but it is a game. You need to put things into perspective and worry about the bigger things in life first.”