Back in love with the game, Barty's firing again

Ashleigh Barty in action against Shelby Rogers of the United States
Ashleigh Barty in action against Shelby Rogers of the United States DEAN LEWINS

TENNIS: In just two matches batting for the Brisbane Heat in the women's Big Bash last summer did Ashleigh Barty manage to get into double figures.

In just two matches at the Australian Open this week the 2011 junior Wimbledon champion has reminded everybody she still intends to be a force to be reckoned with on the tennis court.

"I was batting at number seven or eight, so I think that says enough,” Barty said about her cricket ability.

On a voluntary sabbatical from tennis that she announced in September 2014, Barty scored 68 runs in seven WBBL innings in 2015-16, the last of which was on January 16.

By that stage Barty knew her heart still lay with tennis.

But the 20-year-old admits her break from the sport in which she played her first professional match as a 13-year-old in 2010 could so easily have become permanent.

So it is a twist of fate of sorts that has delivered Barty to the Australian Open third round, where she will meet German qualifier Mona Barthel.

In 2013 Barty and Casey Dellacqua made the doubles final at Melbourne Park, Wimbledon and at the US Open, while in singles she was knocking on the door of the top 100.

But inside the teen had spent most of her petrol tickets.

"I didn't know if I'd come back to be honest,” Barty said.

Ashleigh Barty of Australia reacts to winning her match against against Shelby Rogers of the United States
Ashleigh Barty of Australia reacts to winning her match against against Shelby Rogers of the United States LUKAS COCH

"It was just a bit overwhelming for me and a bit much.

"We had had a massive 2013 Casey and I and so I really just felt like I needed to take some time off to refresh and figure out what I wanted to do.

"I didn't close the door on anything.

"The cricket door opened up for me and that was awesome to have that seven or eight months with the girls and have a really enjoyable time.

"But then come the Australian summer again I knew deep down that that was where I wanted to be and it's exciting to be here a year later.”

It was a heart-to-heart with Dellacqua - now her doubles partner once again - during a casual barbecue last January that sealed Barty's return to tennis, a comeback that was officially announced in February.

"She didn't really have to talk me into it, I think I knew it was the right time anyway,” she said.

"It was nice to have Case there. She's like a big sister to me. It was nice to just have her to sort of chat through it with.”

After beating Shelby Rogers in straight sets on Wednesday, Friday's clash is a line ball call according to the rankings with Barty ranked No.223 and Barthel No.181 following a 2016 season that was riddled with injury and health problems.

The one-time top 30 player has already crushed the hopes of one Aussie this week, Melbourne's Destanee Aiava in round one.

So Barthel knows what to expect in her role as the villain on Friday.

"But I think the crowd was really awesome in that match,” Barthel said.

"They were really fair, but of course they are supporting their home girl so that's fine.

"It's a great tournament for me so far. Qualifying was already a great success because I had a tough year last year, so it's amazing to be back in the third round here for the third time.”

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