Multi-talented Ashleigh Barty has been a professional cricketer, won a golf tournament and collected two tennis Grand Slam titles, with a third beckoning at the Australian Open on Saturday.
Few athletes can boost such a varied sporting resume, but the down-to-earth Australian has taken it in her stride.
Widely seen as one of the nicest players on tour, the 25-year-old began playing tennis as a child in the Queensland state capital Brisbane.
But it was a trip to the Australian Open for a training camp when she was “11 or 12” that proved to be the spark that drove her to where she is today.
“To see how professional it was and to see everyone going about their business was really eye-opening. My first taste of it was in the juniors and I loved it,” she said this week.
“I think being able to get a taste of that kind of lit the flame. You wonder what you can achieve. You wonder what you can do.”
The Australian went on to win the junior Wimbledon title as a 15-year-old in 2011.
But the expectations that came with success took their toll and she made a shock decision three years later to ditch tennis for cricket, signing for Brisbane Heat in the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League.
“In short, I think I needed just to find myself,” Barty said when reflecting on that time of her life.
“I felt like I got twisted and maybe a little bit lost along the way in the first part of my career.”
While cricket gave her “a different perspective about sport”, the lure of tennis was never far away and driven by an ambition to taste success again at Wimbledon she returned after a season away.
The break worked wonders and she went from strength-to-strength.
Barty broke through for her maiden Grand Slam triumph at the French Open in 2019, became Australia’s first women’s world number one since Evonne Goolagong-Cawley and finally won a cherished Wimbledon crown last year.
So dominant has she been that she ended 2021 as the top-ranked player for a third consecutive year, joining Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Chris Evert as the only women to achieve the feat.
‘We’ rather than ‘I’
Barty should have returned to Paris to defend her Roland Garros title in 2020, but she pulled out over coronavirus fears and picked up her golf clubs instead.
And on a course designed by Greg Norman near Brisbane, she won the Brookwater Golf Club women’s title with a commanding 7 and 5 triumph in the matchplay final.
“Is there anything you can’t do?,” asked one social media user at the time.
Barty fine-tuned her golf game playing rounds with fellow Grand Slam winner Pat Rafter and her long-time boyfriend Garry Kissick, who has been by her side since 2016 and often posts supportive messages on social media.
They got engaged in November, sparking a frenzy of congratulations from fellow tennis stars.
Barty attributes much of her success to her close-knit team, which includes not just Kissick but her family and long time coach Craig Tyzzer, routinely referring to “we” rather than “I” when she speaks of her tennis exploits.
“Everyone is equally important. We’re all equal,” she said of her team.
“I mean, the experiences we’ve been able to share together have been remarkable, for my whole team. My family, starts with my family, my sisters.
“Obviously my professional team who contribute so much time and energy into my career and help me try and live out my dreams.
“I genuinely cannot thank them enough for the time and effort they put in to someone else.”