Ashleigh Barty was tipped for big things after winning the juniors title at Wimbledon at the age of 15.
More success followed as she reached three grand slam finals in doubles with compatriot Casey Dellacqua, but just a year later, Barty walked away from the sport, claiming it had “turned into a little bit of a slog”.
Tennis’s loss was, briefly, cricket’s gain, as Barty joined the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League, only for Dellacqua to twist her old playing partner’s arm at a Sydney barbecue last year.
“I went down to see Case, talk about all things life, around [the] Sydney International last year,” Barty said on Wednesday after beating world No.52 Shelby Rogers 7-5 6-1 in the second round of the Australian Open.
“We actually sat down in the backyard – we were having a barbecue. We were chatting about all the experiences we went through … both of us have unfinished business.
“She didn’t really have to talk me into it – I think deep down, I knew it was the right time [to return].
“It was nice to have Case there. She’s like a big sister to me.”
Barty’s chat with Dellacqua might not have been solely responsible for her return to tennis, but it did reignite her passion, and before too long, she was back in action.
The pair will play doubles together at this Australian Open, but it is in the singles that Barty has already caught the eye at Melbourne Park.
Ranked 223rd in the world, largely due to her sabbatical from the sport, the 20-year-old opened up with a 6-4 7-5 success against German Annika Beck.
A second-round meeting with Rogers on Wednesday looked decisively tougher, given the American had dispatched fourth seed Simona Halep in the first round.
But Barty crushed 29 winners en route to a 7-5 6-1 victory that took 68 minutes to compile.
Her victory set up a third-round clash against German qualifier Mona Barthel – and a potential battle with American veteran Venus Williams in the fourth.
“[It is] really exciting,” she said afterwards.
“I had goosebumps on the court. It was so nice to play well. [I was] able to go out there and execute what we wanted to do.
“It was certainly nice to come out with a win. I think those ones will hurt quite a bit if you’re coming out on the wrong end.
— #7TENNIS 🎾 (@7tennis) January 18, 2017
“Tonight’s pretty exciting for everyone involved within my team and my family. It’s pretty cool to be in the third round of a slam.”
When asked about how her game had changed since her absence, Barty added: “I’m a lot different this time.
“I will have prepared much better [than I did previously] … [I am] much more confident out on the court.
“I’ve only played Mona [Barthel] once. She absolutely flogged me off the court.
“It’s an opportunity for us to go out there and have fun and just enjoy it. It’s a bonus from where we are right now.”
I ❤ Ash Barty. So natural. On and off court. Absolute gem. #AusOpen
— judy murray (@JudyMurray) January 18, 2017
Having fun was a theme of Barty’s post-match press conference.
Some players would see a doubles match – the day before a third-round singles clash – as a bit of a chore.
Not Barty. “We’ve got doubles tomorrow, which I’m pretty pumped about.
“I think it’s going to be really exciting getting on court with her [Casey] tomorrow.
“Regardless of the result, we’re going to go out there and have fun. It will be just like old times.”
Just like that Sydney barbecue.