Barty's first singles title lifts her into top 100 after cricket cameo

MELBOURNE • The relentless grind of the professional tennis tour proved too much for Australia's Ashleigh Barty during her teenage years but a break from the game to play cricket appears to be paying some big dividends.

Little more than a year after re-committing to tennis, Barty won her first WTA singles title in Malaysia on Sunday, raising fresh hopes the former Wimbledon junior champion might be on track to fulfil her potential.

There may have been a modest field competing in Kuala Lumpur but it was hard graft for the qualifier Barty, who had to win six matches before beating Japan's Nao Hibino 6-3, 6-2 in the final.

She managed all that while also winning the doubles tournament with Casey Dellacqua, an added sweetener to an exciting week.

"I think it was very unexpected going into the week. We just wanted to come here and play some good tennis and maybe squeak out three-four-five matches, including doubles," the 20-year-old said.

"Even if we didn't walk away with a title it would have been a fantastic week. We're just really pumped and to get through so many matches with the body unscathed is pretty good, too."

Ashleigh Barty pumping her fists after beating Japan's Nao Hibino 6-3, 6-2 in the Malaysian Open singles final. The Australian, a year into her tennis comeback after a stint playing cricket, also won the doubles title in Kuala Lumpur with compatriot
Ashleigh Barty pumping her fists after beating Japan’s Nao Hibino 6-3, 6-2 in the Malaysian Open singles final. The Australian, a year into her tennis comeback after a stint playing cricket, also won the doubles title in Kuala Lumpur with compatriot Casey Dellacqua. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

While Barty now heads to Indian Wells with some US$48,000 (S$67,700) in winnings in the bank, her real prize is a spot in the top 100 in the world rankings.

A career-high ranking of 92 is a position she would never have dreamed of 10 months ago when she played at Eastbourne in the first singles tournament of her comeback.

Barty first gave notice of her potential with her Wimbledon triumph as a 15-year-old in 2011 and she reached three Grand Slam doubles finals with Dellacqua in 2013.

Having racked up nearly a million dollars in prize money before her 18th birthday, she stunned Australia with her decision to walk away from the sport after the 2014 US Open, seeking a more normal life.

The pull of competitive sport soon lured her into cricket, however, and it was not long before she secured one of only 14 professional contracts handed to women in her home state of Queensland in 2015.

Although her return to tennis has curtailed her budding cricket career, Barty is still mad for the game. She was desperately trying to keep tabs on Australia's tour of India between her matches in Kuala Lumpur.

"We had another Aussie physio with the WTA here this week and all week we were checking the cricket scores," she said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'Barty's first singles title lifts her into top 100 after cricket cameo'. Print Edition | Subscribe