Tennis

Ashleigh Barty attributes French Open victory to sabbatical in 2014

French Open champion attributes her rise to her sabbatical five years ago

Newly minted French Open champion Ashleigh Barty admitted that she never thought she would win her first Grand Slam women's singles crown at Roland Garros.

But after her breakthrough victory in Paris on Saturday - following a 6-1, 6-3 win over Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova - Barty will head into the next few Grand Slams as one of the favourites as she sets her sights on becoming the world No. 1.

The 23-year-old, who is the first Australian to win the French Open since Margaret Court in 1973, took a break from tennis in 2014 to play professional cricket, a stint that contributed to an upturn in fortune on the tennis court.

" I don't even know if I'd be sitting here talking to you if I was playing tennis (and) if I didn't step away," she said.

"It was obviously a part of my life that I needed to deal with. I feel like it was the best decision that I made at the time and it was an even better one coming back."

She lost in three Grand Slam doubles finals alongside Casey Dellacqua in 2013, but had won only two singles matches and lost nine at the big-four tournaments when she stepped away five years ago.

Barty then played for the Brisbane Heat cricket team in the 2015/16 Women's Big Bash League, recording nine matches with a top score of 39.

STEADY RISE

She did not play another Grand Slam singles main-draw tie until 2017, and reached the second week of a Major for only the first time at last year's US Open.

The Queensland native, who reached the last eight of the Australian Open in January, will go from world No. 8 to No. 2 when the rankings are updated today.

Barty added: "It's just been an amazing journey that we've had over the last few years. I just tried to tell myself on the court that I may never get this opportunity again, so enjoy it, try and grab it with both hands and go out there and smile.

"It's new territory for me going deep into Slams, that was the goal. One of our goals is to continue to do that."

With top-ranked Naomi Osaka holding only a narrow lead at the summit, Barty has the Japanese star in her sights.

"Obviously, that's the next goal, the next situation I can see myself in," she said.

"Being No. 2 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 No. 1."

Describing her cricket stint as an "amazing period" of her life, Barty said she still has close ties with her former teammates.

She has not totally turned her back on cricket, though, and said she "would have loved" to attend Australia's World Cup match against India at The Oval in London yesterday.

- AFP

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