Monday 21 October 2019

Barty aiming for No 1 after taking road less travelled to French glory

Dual star: Ashleigh Barty stepped away from tennis for two years to play professional cricket. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images
Dual star: Ashleigh Barty stepped away from tennis for two years to play professional cricket. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Eleanor Crooks

Ashleigh Barty has set her sights on becoming the next world number one after winning her first grand slam singles title at the French Open.

The 23-year-old Australian was the class of the field in Paris, defeating teenager Marketa Vondrousova 6-1 6-3 in Saturday's final.

Barty will climb to number two in the rankings today, only 136 points behind top-ranked Naomi Osaka.

She said: "Being number two in the world is incredible. It's something I never dreamt of as a child and obviously we'll keep chipping away and try to get to number one.

"It's all happened pretty quickly over the last two weeks but we're trying to take it in our stride. Obviously we'll have a couple of quiet days now to relax, to celebrate and then set new goals."

It is well documented that Barty's path to the top has not been linear. Marked out as a future star very young, she won the Wimbledon junior title aged 15, but the pressure and the lifestyle took its toll.

"I realised that my first trip overseas was 10 years ago and it was to Paris," she said. "It was my first taste of international tennis and my god it was terrible, it was scary, I hated every minute."

By 18, Barty had had enough, and she stepped away from the sport for nearly two years, trying her hand at professional cricket and enjoying being a normal teenager.

In 2016, she decided she was ready to return to the court and the journey that has now carried her to a grand slam title began at a small tournament in Eastbourne, England, three years ago this week.

"I was very nervous," she said. "I remember at the end of that week my body was shot. It feels like yesterday we were there but in the same breath it also feels like it was a lifetime ago."

Her coach, Craig Tyzzer, remembers the week well.

"We'd done a 12-week training block and she was so out of shape it wasn't funny," he said. "I didn't expect her to win too many matches."

Tyzzer has been by Barty's side ever since she returned to tennis.

"It doesn't matter how much talent you have, you get to this level and you've got to work your butt off, and Ash does," he said.

"We're continuing to improve lots of areas in Ash's game, both on and off the court, and I think it's really shown this year.

"In this game you can't sit still and she knows that. Her feet are firmly planted on the ground."

Irish Independent

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