Brisbane: Teenage tennis star Ashleigh Barty says the lure of playing a team sport for the first time in her life convinced her to swap her racquet for a cricket bat. Barty has signed with the Brisbane Heat for the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League campaign, just months after approaching Queensland Cricket to express her interest in swapping sports.
The 2011 junior Wimbledon champion has been on a tennis sabbatical since September last year, admitting her passion for the game had waned, but she didn’t rule out a return to the WTA tour in the future.
“I was still enjoying life. I had nothing to complain about,” said 19-year-old Barty, who played in three grand slam doubles finals in 2013. [But] I wanted to make sure I was all in or there’s no point doing it.
“It is tough when you’re by yourself and I think that’s why team sport is so appealing. I’m still connected very much to tennis and everything it has to offer. It’s been a part of me since I was four years old and is never going to leave me.”
Barty’s interest in cricket was piqued when she met with the Australian women’s national cricket team earlier this year, addressing them on life as an international athlete.
Immediately taken by the camaraderie of their team environment, Barty later spoke to a Queensland Cricket official to ask how she could try her hand at the game, having only ever played it before in the backyard with her family.
Since July she has been training with Queensland’s national league squad and last weekend top-scored in her first T20 match at local level with 63 off 60 balls. “There’s never a lonesome moment on the field if you’re struggling. There’s 10 other girls that can help you out and get you through the tough times,” Barty said.
Blown away by her “transferable skills”, strength and hand-eye coordination, Queensland coach Andy Richards has no qualms in predicting the diminutive Barty could be a future national team player should she so desire.
Barty is making a big financial sacrifice in her switch – she earned more than $600,000 during the 2013 calendar year but as a WBBL player stands to collect a maximum of $10,000.
But she said money was merely a “side-bonus” of being fortunate enough to play professional sport. Asked if she might make a WTA comeback at some stage in her mid-20s, Barty said: “I’ll see when I’m 20.”
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