Two seasons ago, Barty appeared in the women’s Big Bash League side Brisbane Heat, taking a hiatus from smashing a tennis ball to have a go against the harder leather ball.
It was right after 2014 US Open when then 18-year-old Barty took a break from tennis. Having already made it to two Grand Slam finals in women's doubles in 2013 along with compatriot Casey Dellacqua, the stress of the tour had become too much for her to handle.
“It was too much too quickly for me as I've been travelling from quite a young age... I wanted to experience life as a normal teenaged girl and have some normal experiences,” she said about her decision at the time.
It was at this time that quite fortuitously, Barty came in touch with Andy Richards, coach of Queensland’s women’s cricket team, also called Fire. And Richards was immediately impressed by the skill set she possessed.
"Her skill from the first time she picked up a bat was outstanding from a coach's perspective,” Richards said of Barty. “She never missed a ball in her first session. That's what attracted me as a coach to her as a player, her ability to pick up things really quickly.”
It was the start of a new innings for Barty and she was signed on to be part of the inaugural WBBL.
A regular member of the side for the whole season, her most notable performance came when she scored 39 from 27 balls on her debut against Melbourne Stars. Though her team finished sixth out of eight, Barty had experienced the environment of a totally different sport than she had grown up playing.
However, it was soon time to rekindle her association with tennis. She returned to the court with renewed energy and started plying her trade on ITF circuit, but only as a doubles specialist. It turned out to be remarkable comeback as she won three tournaments of the five she appeared in.
That was just the start of something special. In 2017, despite being ranked outside 250 in singles and doubles, Barty finished the year inside top 20 in both categories.
"It's nice to know that straight off the bat I can come in and compete with the best in the world,” she said.
Among her major scalps that year were top players such as Venus Williams, Johanna Konta, Karolina Pliskova and Jelena Ostapenko. Despite making rapid strides in singles, doubles still remained her strong suit. The Aussie made it to yet another final at the French Open along with Dellacqua and the pair won the Birmingham Classic too. But Dellacqua, the team's senior partner announced retirement after the 2018 Australian Open, leaving Barty in search of a new partner.
Vandeweghe was the answer, the pair winning the Miami Open and now adding a Grand Slam trophy to their cabinet. It would only seem logical the cricket kit will stay locked away in the Barty household for a while, but you never know, perhaps sometime in the future a Grand Slam champion will be back to smashing sixes and fours.
First Published: September 11, 2018, 3:58 PM IST