Newly-crowned French Open champ Ashleigh Barty has credited her stint playing with Brisbane Heat's WBBL team for rescuing her career.
Barty became Australia's fourth female winner at Roland Garros on Saturday after brushing aside Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets just three years after returning to tennis.
After winning junior Wimbledon in 2011, Barty struggled to deal with the expectation and pressure placed upon her young shoulders and sensationally walked away from the sport disillusioned and desperate for a break.
Barty did continue to hit tennis balls during her sabbatical with junior coach Jim Joyce at West Brisbane Tennis Club and admitted she always knew she'd return.
However, she said the time spent with cricketers like as Australia internationals Beth Mooney and Jess Jonassen had a huge effect on her.
"It truly was an amazing period of my life," Barty said.
"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."
Rain in Paris delayed the start of Barty's final with the men's semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem running to a fifth set.
Barty and her team whiled away the time with an impromptu game of cricket in the gym area underneath Court Philippe Chatrier but the 23-year-old insists despite her enjoyment of the game, tennis will always remain her first love.
"I never closed any doors or said: 'I'm never playing tennis again'," she said.
"For me, I needed time to step away, to live a normal life, because this tennis life certainly isn't normal. I think I needed time to grow as a person, to mature and I left all of my options open. I think it was just a natural progression for me coming back to tennis. Tennis will always be a big part of my life. I missed the competition."
Barty's coach Craig Tyzzer believes Barty would not have been able to have compete again at the highest level had she not walked away when she did.
"It was the best thing she ever did: stepping away from the sport," Tyzzer 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."