Ashleigh Barty’s incredible tennis comeback has caught the attention of retired great Steffi Graf, who has described her rise up the rankings this year as an “incredible story”.
The 21-year-old will finish the year as high as No.16 in the world after reaching Zhuhai’s WTA Elite Trophy semi-finals last week.
This time last year Barty was ranked outside the world’s top 300 and in late 2014 appeared to be lost to the sport when, citing the need for a mental break, she took up cricket.
Graf, a 22-time major winner, first spotted a 14-year-old Barty at a training camp she hosted with husband and fellow great Andre Agassi about seven years ago.
Speaking in Zhuhai on Sunday, Graf said she was in awe of the young Australian’s journey since that initial encounter.
“I did see her at the very beginning of her career; she came and surprised all the players with her style early on,” Graf said.
“I don’t completely know exactly how she came back to playing cricket and then back to tennis but it is a pretty incredible story.
“Seeing her play so well, especially this year from where she’s started to where she’s ending, it’s a pretty incredible speed of how she’s finding herself back into the tennis tour.”
The Ipswich product had nine wins against top-20 opponents this season, including a straight-sets thumping of two-time grand slam champion and former world No.1 Angelique Kerber last Thursday.
Graf said her skills at the net and new-found power from the baseline and on serve placed her well to continue her rise next season.
“The Australians always have an interesting style of tennis and she’s one of them,” Graf said.
“She’s got great hands and a lot of potential and it’s great to see her back in the sport of tennis.”
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Graf also tipped new mother Serena Williams to return to the sport and eclipse Margaret Court’s record of 24 major titles by winning two more.
“It sounds from what I hear that she is looking to come back to tennis and, you know, everything that she has shown over her career just makes you believe that if she has that in her sights then she will go after it and achieve it,” Graf said of the 36-year-old.