PARIS  -    Ashleigh Barty has praised the “amazing period” in her life when she was a cricketer in the Women’s Big Bash after claiming her first Grand Slam tennis title in the French Open.

Barty, who has made regular references to following the World Cup during her time in Paris, stepped away from tennis in 2014 and a year later signed for Brisbane Heat in the WBBL. She returned to professional tennis in 2016 and on Saturday defeated unseeded 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-3. “It truly was an amazing period of my life,” Barty said of her cricket career. “I met an amazing group of people who couldn’t care less whether I could hit a tennis ball or not.

“They accepted me, and they got to know Ash Barty. They got to know me. I still have those relationships to this very day. I got an amazing amount of messages over the last couple of days from those cricket girls who were some of my best friends. The way they are accepting of someone new coming into their locker room, into their dressing room and into their sport was amazing. They are truly an incredible group of girls that I know I’ll have a relationship with for the rest of my life and a friendship with for the rest of my life.”

Barty’s coach Craig Tyzzer believes that her switch of sports was critical in her subsequent tennis success. “It was the best thing she ever did: stepping away from the sport,” he said. “She wanted to reassess her life. For someone to be able to step back in and play at the level she has after three years out is pretty amazing.”