Fellow tennis great Pat Rafter, who was the 2002 Australian of the Year, delivered the news to Barty in Melbourne on Saturday evening, prompting her to declare: “This is bizarre. It really is.
“For me, my family, my team – we’re just trying to do the best that we can every single day,” she said.
“I don’t think I’m deserving of it but, yeah, I’m just trying to be me … This is incredibly humbling, and I know that it’s going to be something that sits very, very high on my mantelpiece at home.”
Asked what she had learnt “along the way” in her journey, Barty paid tribute to her parents.
“All of my values that I’ve lived by and try to live by every single day, regardless of whether it’s in sport, all come from Mum and Dad,” she said.
“It’s about being humble and respectful, and giving it a crack – trying to be the best you can be, and that’s all you can ask of yourself.”
Barty’s hopes of winning the Australian Open strengthened after top seeds Karolina Pliskova and Belinda Bencic were knocked out on Saturday.
Her women’s doubles assault at the Open ended on Saturday when she and Germany’s Julia Gorges lost to France’s Kristina Mladenovic and Hungary’s Timea Babos. Barty did not speak to the media after the match.
The former cricketer and teen tennis champion is ranked the world’s number one singles tennis player by the Women’s Tennis Association – following in the footsteps of her role model Evonne Goolagong Cawley – and was a favourite for Young Australian of the Year.
National Australia Day Council chair Danielle Roche said Barty was “a champion athlete and an extraordinary young woman doing our nation proud” and inspiring her “legions of fans”.
“Her achievements are inspiring young Australians to follow their dreams,” Ms Roche said.
She credited Barty for her “dynamic tennis game, formidable serve and down-to-earth attitude”, including her “calm, good-humoured acceptance” of just missing out on reaching the 2019 Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Barty, an Aboriginal woman, descended from the Ngaragu people of southern NSW and north-eastern Victoria, serves as the National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador for Tennis Australia.
As an adult, she has won six singles titles on the WTA Tour, including one Grand Slam at the 2019 French Open.
Barty also sits in the top 20 of doubles players and was a doubles runner-up for the Australian Open at the age of just 16.
She won a grand slam doubles title at the 2018 US Open with partner CoCo Vandeweghe.
The other finalists for Young Australian of the Year were Indigenous mentor and fundraiser Corey Tutt (NSW), youth worker and volunteer Taya Davies (Victoria), youth mental health ambassador Mitchell Ford (NT) rare diseases researcher Yarlalu Thomas (WA), runner, cyclist and fundraiser Zibeon Fielding (South Australia), social justice activist Will Smith (Tasmania) and sustainability advocate Madeline Diamond (ACT).
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.