Ashleigh Barty maintains her focus.
Ashleigh Barty maintains her focus. TRACEY NEARMY

Cricket missing tennis ace Ash

IN one season of cricket, Ashleigh Barty turned heads.

It's not ridiculous to say had the 21-year-old from Ipswich chosen not to return to tennis, she might well have been playing in the Ashes series just gone.

Her cricket cameo - she smashed a six out of the Junction Oval on her way to a quick-fire 39 in her WBBL debut for Brisbane Heat in 2015 - was instead a circuit breaker that reignited her tennis career.

Barty has been a big name since she was a young teen, making her Australian Open debut as a 15-year-old in 2012, just months after claiming the junior Wimbledon singles title.

But by the end of 2014 she had walked away from the sport, burnt out by the grind of the circuit.

Ashleigh Barty of Australia speaks during a press conference ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Sunday, January 14, 2018.  (AAP Image/Sam Mooy) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Ashleigh Barty talks to the press at the Australian Open. SAM MOOY

Andy Richards, the man who took Barty's call as then coach of Queensland and Brisbane Heat when she wanted to talk cricket, said while you won't see any cricket-like strokes in her tennis repertoire, the sport has made its mark.

"Having seen her when we first sat down and had a cup of coffee and where she was and looking at her now, that's probably two and half years, she's just grown,” Richards said.

"She's grown within herself, she's really relaxed.

Ashleigh Barty of Australia reacts against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during round one, on day two of the Australian Open tennis tournament, in Melbourne, Tuesday, January 16, 2018. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Ashleigh Barty reacts during her win against Aryna Sabalenka. TRACEY NEARMY

"We spoke about the homesickness, being on that tennis circuit at such a young age and not always with a lot of support. It certainly took a toll on her I think and the break was such a sensible thing to do.

"She just loved the freedom of team sport. She's a team player, she probably belongs in a team sport, she just happens to be really good at the individual.

"I've no doubt her 18 months with us was valuable to her overall wellbeing.”

Barty's calm demeanour was plain to see as she overcame temperamental teenager Aryna Sabalenka 6-7 6-4 6-4 in the opening round. The world No.19 will continue her campaign on Thursday when she takes on in-form Italian Camila Giorgi.

Camila Giorgi of Italy plays a return shot to Angelique Kerber of Germany during their semi final match at the Sydney International Tennis Tournament at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre in Sydney, Friday, January 12, 2018. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Camila Giorgi will play Ashleigh Barty in the second round at the Australian Open. DAN HIMBRECHTS

Richards described Barty, who returned to tennis in mid-2016 without a ranking, as very humble. She had doubt about her cricketing abilities.

She started slowly, but Richards said she could have developed into a top Australian player.

"I think her first two bats at club level she was out first ball and then second ball,” Richards said.

"I think about her fifth or sixth innings in she scored a hundred in a T20 game. She's the most extraordinary individual. She has talent to burn.”

"We miss her. We would love to have her in our game.

"I have no doubt whatsoever (she could have played for Australia).”