Sport

Ashleigh Barty's tennis comeback remains on track with win at Canberra clay tournament

A relaxed Ashleigh Barty says time away from tennis has helped her regain her passion as she ramps up her comeback and chases a title in Canberra.

But the former Wimbledon junior champion will leave the door open to pursue a potential double life in cricket and tennis.

Former Wimbledon junior champion Ashleigh Barty continued her tennis comeback with a win in Canberra on Tuesday.
Former Wimbledon junior champion Ashleigh Barty continued her tennis comeback with a win in Canberra on Tuesday. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Barty teamed up with Arina Rodionova on Tuesday to win their first-round match at the ACT clay court international at the Canberra Tennis Centre.

It was another positive step in Barty's return to tennis almost two years after walking away from the sport and her stint with the Brisbane Heat in the inaugural women's Big Bash League cricket competition.

Still 19, Barty has plenty of time to find her feet and insisted she was in no rush to burst back on to the professional circuit.

That makes the low-key event in Canberra the perfect platform to continue finding the rhythm and game that lifted her into three grand slam doubles finals and a ranking of 129th in the world as a 17-year-old.

"My ranking is nowhere near [grand slam] level yet. I know if I continue to do the right things it won't take long for my game to get there," Barty said.

"I'm just going to be really patient, I'm in no rush to get there at all. This is an opportunity for me to come back and play my tennis the way I want to play it.

"Do my schedule my way, maybe a little bit different to how I've done it in the past. I'm a lot more experienced now, both on and off the court. A bit more mature as well, so this time I'll be a little bit smarter and take my time."

Barty and Rodionova beat Sally Peers and Lizette Cabrera 6-3, 7-5 in the opening round match to set up a potential showdown with Canberra's Alison Bai and partner Ya-Hsuan Lee.

Bai and Lee will play Jia-Jing Lu, of China, and Carla Touly, of France, on Wednesday for a chance to progress to the next round.

There's $25,000 up for grabs at the first of two clay-court events in the capital over the next two weeks.

Barty is simply focused on getting back to her best after enjoying her chance to play in the national women's Twenty20 competition with the Heat.

The Canberra tournament is Barty's fourth since making her return, having previously played with Jess Moore and Casey Dellacqua.

​"We're just in the first month or so of striking the ball again, it's good to get back out on court and finding the middle a bit more often," Barty said.

"The more balls that I hit, it's going to get better and better. Once I get a bit more confidence in my ball striking, that's when we can get down to the nitty gritty parts of the game.

"It's going to take time, but I'm prepared to do the work and have some fun with it as well.

"This is the fourth tournament, so it's starting to feel more natural being back out there. To be honest it never really felt foreign, as soon as I walked back out on the court it felt normal to me."

Barty's top score in the Big Bash was 39 off 27 balls in the opening game against the Melbourne Stars in December.

But she says trading the pads and cricket bat for a racquet was a far easier transition.

"I'm not putting any pressure on myself and there's no need for that, I'm just going to enjoy every moment of it," Barty said.

"It's the off-season for cricket now. I'm always going to leave that [cricket] door open, and I'm very lucky. At this stage I'm going to focus on my tennis for the next few months at least and go from there.

"Cricket and tennis are very different skill sets, but I've played tennis all my life so it's a lot easier coming back than learning how to face a cricket ball for the first time."

ACT CLAYCOURT INTERNATIONAL

Wednesday: Play starts at the Canberra Tennis Centre at 10am. Entry is free.