Ash Barty didn't want to play tennis. Didn't want to watch tennis, or even talk about the sport. She took a break from the tour after the 2014 U.S. Open to explore another career — in cricket.
Yes, cricket. The game of wickets, tea breaks, of bowling maiden overs or hitting the ball for six.
A little more than two years after switching back from bat to racket, Barty has caught the attention of a nation after becoming the first Australian woman in a decade to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
She beat five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova, the 2008 Australian titlist with a profile that transcends the sport, in a fourth-round match on Sunday that had the partisan crowd — including the prime minister — in raptures. They're calling it the Barty Party.
But five years ago, not even Barty could have predicted this. Tired with the lonesome travels of a professional Tennis player and a load of expectations from the Australian public she announced a shock retirement from the game in 2014 taking refuge in the team sport of cricket.
"There's never a lonesome moment on the field if you're struggling," she had said at the time.
"There are 10 other girls that can help you out and get you through the tough times."
On her Women's Big Bash League debut against the Melbourne Stars, Barty scored 39 runs from 27 balls for the Brisbane Heat.
Asked later if she thought she'd be in the same position now if she hadn't spent time away, Barty said her time in cricket was a good tonic.
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"No, absolutely. I needed to take that time away," she said, adding: "I feel like I came back a better person on and off the court, a better tennis player. Yeah, for me, having that 18 months off was vital."
There hasn't been an Australian winner of the home Grand Slam in 41 years since Chris O'Neil won the women's title on grass in 1978. Mark Edmondson was the last Australian man to win the title when he beat fellow Aussie and defending champion John Newcombe in 1976.
It took four match points and 2 hours, 22 minutes before Barty fended off Sharapova 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals of a major for the first time, and becoming the first Australian woman since Jelena Dokic to reach the last eight at Melbourne Park.
She'll next play two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who beat 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-1 to return to the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time in seven years. Kvitova is on a nine-match roll, including a win over Barty last week in the Sydney International final.
(With AP inputs)