MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Ashleigh Barty stunned Australian tennis fans more than two years ago when she turned her back on the sport to play top-level cricket.
On Monday, she signaled she was back.
The 20-year-old, free of a shoulder injury that forced her out of qualifying for last week’s Hobart tournament, won her first match at the Australian Open at her fourth attempt with a 6-4 7-5 victory over Germany’s Annika Beck.
“It’s nice to finally get that first singles win here,” Barty told reporters on Monday. “I think you have to enjoy it. You have to sort of appreciate what you’ve worked for, what you’ve achieved.”
Barty, who won a junior Wimbledon title at 15, made three grand slam doubles finals with compatriot Casey Dellacqua in 2013 and faced Serena Williams on center court at Melbourne Park three years ago, gave the game away in late 2014.
It was too much, too fast, she said at the time and wanted to have a normal life for while, spend time at home with friends and family and play a team sport.
Having impressed in club cricket, she was signed by the Brisbane Heat for the inaugural women’s Big Bash Twenty20 competition in November 2015, hitting 39 runs in her first match.
She returned to tennis mid-way through last year, playing lower-level tournaments and attempting to qualify for Wimbledon.
Barty won her first match at the Brisbane tournament two weeks ago before losing to world number one Angelique Kerber.
After getting a wildcard for the season-opening grand slam, she withdrew from qualifying in Hobart, preferring to ensure she was ready for her return to the big show.
On Monday, she showed she was definitely ready with her win over Beck to set up a second round clash with Shelby Rogers after the American upset fourth seed Simona Halep.
“Obviously I’ve developed a lot in the last few years, have matured a lot,” she added. “I’m sort of not a little kid anymore. I know how to prepare a little bit better now.
“Doesn’t matter whether I’m playing on a court at home or center court here. I just go out and play point-by-point and try and focus on winning.”
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O’Brien)