How cricket helped Ashleigh Barty fall in love with tennis again

Few years ago, Ashleigh Barty walked away from the sport she had played since she was a toddler and took up cricket.

Ashleigh Barty beat Maria Sharapova in the third round of the Australian Open.   -  AP

Australia's Ashleigh Barty will become the first local hope to play in the last eight of the Australian Open in a decade when she comes up against Petra Kvitova after stunning Maria Sharapova in the fourth round on Sunday.

READ | Barty reaches Melbourne quarters with win over Sharapova

But few years ago, 22-year-old Queenslander walked away from the sport she had played since she was a toddler and took up cricket. And Barty believes the decision to play professional cricket revived her career, giving her the drive to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in Melbourne this week.

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.

Ashleigh Barty playing for Brisbane Heat in the Women's Big Bash League.   -  Twitter

 

“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 (BBL), 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.

RELATED | Osaka overcomes Sevastova to reach first Aus Open quarters

“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 15th 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.