Ashleigh Barty said that she “certainly” did not think the French Open would be her first Grand Slam title, but with the Roland Garros crown sealed, she will head into the next few majors as one of the favourites and targeting her “next goal” of becoming the world No1.
The Australian, the first player from her country to win in Paris since Margaret Court in 1973, took a break from tennis in 2014 to play professional cricket.
But the 23-year-old has rapidly risen up the rankings since returning without a world ranking, and will be the world No2 on Monday.
Her dominant 6-1, 6-3 final victory on Saturday over Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova will certainly have her earmarked as a player who can consistently compete on the biggest stage.
“Certainly not here, that’s for sure. It’s just been an amazing journey that we’ve had over the last few years,” Barty said.
“I just tried to tell myself on the court that I may never get this opportunity again, so enjoy it, try and grab it with both hands and go out there and smile.
“It’s new territory for me going deep into Slams, that was the goal. One of our goals is to continue to do that.”
Now the No1 ranking is well within her reach, with Naomi Osaka only holding a narrow lead at the summit, and Barty has the Japanese star in her sights.
“Obviously, that’s the next point, the next goal, the next situation I can see myself in,” she said.
“Being No2 in the world is incredible and something I never dreamt of as a child and we’ll keep chipping away and try our best to get to No1.”
Barty played for the Brisbane Heat cricket team in the Women’s Big Bash League four years ago, playing nine matches with a top score of 39.
“No, not at all,” she said of her hopes of winning a Grand Slam when she started her comeback with a surprising run to the semi-finals at Eastbourne in 2016.
“I was very nervous [at Eastbourne] because I didn’t even know if I would get in the draw,” she said.
‘Body was shot’ after comeback event
“I only got in the draw because it wasn’t full in quallies. It was pretty nice to almost flip into tournament mode straight away.
“I remember at the end of that week, my body was shot. It wasn’t used to playing matches again. It was incredible.
“To know that it was three years ago – it feels like only yesterday that we were there and in the same breath it also feels like it was a lifetime ago.”
Barty lost in three Grand Slam doubles finals alongside Casey Dellacqua in 2013, but had only won two singles matches and lost nine at the big four tournaments when she stepped away five years ago.
She did not play another Grand Slam singles main-draw tie until 2017, and only reached the second week of a major for the first time at least year’s US Open.
Barty does not think she could have seen such an upturn in her fortunes without taking a hiatus.
“Absolutely not. I don’t even know if I’d be sitting here talking to you if I was playing tennis [and] if I didn’t step away,” Barty said.
“It’s obviously a part of my life that I needed to deal with, and I feel like it was the best decision that I made at the time, and it was an even better one coming back.”
She has not totally turned her back on cricket, though, and said she “would have loved” to have been able to attend Australia’s World Cup match against India at The Oval in London on Sunday.