Australia’s Ashleigh Barty believes a decision to take a break from tennis and play professional cricket revived her career, giving her the drive to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final in Melbourne this week.
Barty will became the first local hope to play in the last eight at the Australian Open in a decade when she faces Czech rival Petra Kvitova on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old has already claimed her biggest scalp yet with a three-set triumph over five-time major champion Maria Sharapova on Sunday in front of a frenzied Melbourne Park crowd.
But Barty’s career was in crisis a few years ago, when the Queenslander walked away from the sport she had played since she was a toddler.
Jaded with the constant travel and loneliness of being on tour, as well as the pressure from Australian fans desperate for Grand Slam success, Barty decided tennis was not for her.
She retired and in 2014 made the stunning announcement that she would instead play professional cricket in Brisbane, preferring a team sport over tennis’ gladiatorial ethos.
“There’s never a lonesome moment on the field if you’re struggling,” she said at the time. “There’s 10 other girls that can help you out and get you through the tough times.”
Barty played for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League, scoring 39 runs from 27 deliveries on debut against the Melbourne Stars.
She eventually returned to tennis but credits her brief foray at the cricket crease with rekindling her love for the sport that has now made her a household name in Australia.
“I needed to take that time away,” she said after downing Sharapova.
“For me, having that 18 months off was vital. I feel like I came back a better person on and off the court, a better tennis player.”
Barty, seeded 15 at Melbourne Park, maintains a keen interest in cricket and said after winning in the third round that she planned to watch a one-day match between Australia and India at the neighbouring Melbourne Cricket Ground.
“Ice bath, physio, coffee, cricket — I’m good,” she said when asked about her post-match plans.