Ashleigh Barty loves playing on grass and put a tennis racket, cricket bat or golf club into her hands and prepare to witness a sporting natural in action. In 2011, Barty won the Wimbledon girl’s singles while Luke Saville claimed the boy’s crown to give Australia an historic double at The Championships and confirm her tennis game was suited to grass.
Two years later, Barty became a fully-fledged Grand Slam champion, winning the Australian Open doubles title with fellow countrywoman Casey Dellacqua and they also appeared in the US Open and Wimbledon doubles finals to make it a truly remarkable year.
What was even more remarkable was Barty’s decision to then quit tennis in 2014 and start a career in women’s cricket in Australia which saw her represent Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash tournament. There appeared to be a real danger that this tennis talent would be lost to a sport she first started playing at the tender age of five-years-old. Barty, who is through to her second successive quarter-final at the Nottingham Open where the 21-year-old will play either top seed Johanna Konta or Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer, admits the break from tennis was needed at that point of her young life.
Now, having spent two years away from the game, during which time her ranking dropped to No.623, Barty is inside the top 100 and loving the British grass that gave her such a wonderfully successful start to her career six years ago.
Barty, who is now ranked No.88, beat Jana Fett of Croatia to reach the last eight, and said: "It has been a great 12 months and it was challenging in 2016 with injuries, but we were able to set down the foundations which has set us up for this year. Now, I am in my favourite time of the year on the grass and hopefully I can consolidate and keep playing well. It will be a really good match on Friday against either Johanna or Yanina.
“I have always loved grass even though I grew up on hard courts and having a special experience at Wimbledon was very important in my career. Taking the break in 2014 was something I needed to do and I didn’t put any pressure on myself to come back. I decided it would be when and if I felt ready. I wasn’t pushed into tennis and played because I love it and I have that passion back now.
“My win in Kuala Lumpar put me into the top 100 earlier this year and a conservative target had been to be top 100 by the end of the year. It was pretty awesome to achieve that in March with a first title and it is tricky to get from 130 to 90 in the rankings and it was great to skip that and it was great."
Tsvetana Pironkova is an example of how the rankings system can make life tough for you on tour.
Last year the Bulgarian hit the headlines by reaching the quarter-finals of the French Open, beating second seed Agnieszka Radwanska during her run, and followed this up with another last eight showing on grass at Birmingham.
However, this year she lost in the second round at Roland Garros and having entered the tournament as the world No.77, she started the Nottingham event down at No.126 as her ranking points from 12 months before came off as she failed to either better or equal her performance in Paris.
She will now face either Lucie Safarova, the fifth seed from the Czech Republic, or Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh in the last eight as the 2010 Wimbledon semi-finalist attempts to climb back up the rankings. Last year’s Aegon Open runner-up Alison Riske will take on Aegon Surbiton Trophy winner Magdalena Rybarikov today.
Battling through qualifying and reaching the quarter-final is a significant achievement for British No.11 Lloyd Glasspool, but he wants a place in the last four having fired off 133mph serves en route to a 6-2, 6-3 win over Marc Polmans of Australia. Glasspool, boyfriend of Heather Watson, has a consistently powerful serve that suits grass and said: "I am loving it and you get into a rhythm playing qualifying and into the main draw."
He is currently No.435 having been in the 200s a year ago and has the game to get back up there.