Ashleigh Barty, who once left her tennis racquets and picked up the cricket bat, on Saturday won her maiden Grand Slam title after defeating Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 6-3 in a dominant display.
The Australian, the first player from her country to win in Paris since Margaret Court in 1973, now sits at number 2 in the world rankings, and has set her aim at the top.
Yet, till just three years ago, she was playing professional cricket and she could have played for Australia’s national team had fate taken her on a different path, her former cricket coach Andy Richards said.
It was after the US Open five years ago that Barty left competitive tennis. She had been a successful junior, winning the 2011 Wimbledon girls' title, and played in three doubles finals by too.
But she decided she needed a break from tennis, from the pressure and expectations. So she stepped away in 2014 and wound up trying her hand at cricket. She joined a professional team at home in Australia. She played the women’s Big Bash League for Brisbane Heat, playing nine matches for a top score of 39.
On Saturday, the 23-year-old lifted the French Open, her maiden Grand Slam title that has propelled her to an earshot of Naomi Osaka at the top of the rankings.
Richards said he cried with joy seeing his former student win her first grand slam title. "I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. She deserves everything she gets, she's such a good person and great competitor," he said.
It was Richards who helped Barty play cricket professionally and described her as one of the most naturally gifted athletes.
“I had heard she wanted to give it a try so I rang her up to ask if she was serious. She said she was, she needed something different," he told Sydney Morning Herald.
He invited her to hit a few balls at Queensland Cricket's field in Brisbane where Barty put on the pads for the first time.
"I fed her about 150 balls on the bowling machine. She only missed about two or three and the rest of them she hit flush. It was really one of the most extraordinary things from my point of view,” he added.
But with cricket stint behind her now Barty has set a goal to continue competing for Grand Slams.
"Being number two in the world is incredible and something I never dreamt of as a child and we'll keep chipping away and try our best to get to number one," she said.