By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Ashleigh Barty hated her first trip to Paris but 10 years later, after one of the more remarkable tennis journeys, she woke up in the French capital on Sunday as queen of Roland Garros.
It was in Paris that a 13-year-old Barty got her first taste of life on the road when she joined a group of fellow Australian junior hopefuls competing at an international event.
The experience could not have been further removed from the past fortnight where Barty arrived as one of many players talked about as title contenders and ended up claiming the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, the first Australian to do so since 1973.
“It was special to have that pop up in my mind over the last two weeks,” Queenslander Barty, who quit the tennis life in 2014 to play cricket, before returning in 2016, told reporters.
“It’s the decade of my career. I remember that was my first international tournament, my first taste of international tennis and it was terrible. It was scary, I hated every minute.
“But what a journey that I have been on. Especially the last three or four years.”
Barty’s time away from the game, when she impressed as an all-rounder for Brisbane Heat cricket team in the 2015-16 Big Bash League, actually helped her rekindle her love for tennis.
With coach Craig Tyzzer encouraging her to play the intuitive sort of tennis that helped her win junior Wimbledon as a 15-year-old in 2011, Barty has blossomed into one of the most watchable players on Tour.
Fellow Australian Nick Kyrgios was one of the first to congratulate her on her victory over Czech Marketa Vondrousova on Saturday — super-imposing the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen on an old photo of a tiny Barty holding a junior trophy.
“It was fun, it was enjoyable and it was the most authentic way to play tennis,” Barty said of her junior days.
“I feel like I’m able to touch on that a bit more now and recreate that enjoyment, that authenticity and I’m loving it.”
As well as being an icon for all Australians, Barty’s victory resonates for the country’s indigenous population, just as Australian great Evonne Goolagong’s triumphs did.
Barty’s great grandmother on her father’s side was a Ngaragu woman and she is proud of her heritage.
She hopes that as well as emulating Goolagong, who won seven Grand Slam singles titles, her French Open triumph will open more sporting doors for indigenous youngsters.
“The pathways and the progress we’ve made for indigenous youth around the nation has been incredible,” Barty, an Indigenous Tennis Ambassador for Tennis Australia, said.
“People are actually aware that there is a pathway to enjoy, not only tennis, but all other sports. It’s incredible to know what Evonne has done and how passionate she is.
“If I can have any small part in that, it would be incredible.”
Barty will be ranked number two in the world on Monday and is being tipped to emulate Goolagong and become number one.
“That’s kind of the next point, the next goal, the next situation I could see myself in,” she said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)