PARIS, France - Exactly three years ago to the day - June 6th, 2016 - Australia's Ashleigh Barty's name reappeared on the WTA rankings. After taking a two-year hiatus from the sport to settle herself and go play some professional cricket, the prodigiously talented Aussie returned to professional tennis ranked No.623.
Three years later, the 23-year-old, who is in the midst of a stunning season, will make her Top 5 debut after Roland Garros thanks to her run to the French Open semifinals. Barty booked her spot in her first major semifinal on Thursday, defeating last year's semifinalist Madison Keys 6-3, 7-5 in the quarterfinals.
"It's remarkable," Barty told reporters after the win. "Feels like just yesterday that we started, jumped on the plane to come over here to start again. So much has happened in between.
What has happened in between is Barty making good on the talent that made her a teenager star in Australia after winning junior Wimbledon in 2011 as a 15-year-old. The pressure and the travel proved too much for Barty, who walked away from the sport in 2014 having yet to break into the Top 100 in singles.
Barty's second career took off immediately. Upon her return, Barty made the quarterfinals or better at three of the four tournaments she played in 2016. A month into the 2017 season she won her first WTA title in Kuala Lumpur and went on to make her first Premier final in Birmingham that summer and her first Premier 5 final in Wuhan that fall.
"I have grown as a person and obviously as a player, as well," Barty said. "But I have had some heartbreaking moments. I've had some amazing moments. But all in all, I have enjoyed every single minute.
"I think that's been the biggest thing, that I haven't had one ounce of regret. I felt like when I came back, it was my decision, we did it my way, and, yeah, it's paying dividends."
Barty's build-up has transformed into a juggernaut in 2019, where, in addition to leading Australia to the Fed Cup final, she has made the quarterfinals or better at 5 of the 7 tournaments she has played. In April, she won the biggest title of her career at the Miami Open and her Slam performance has been stellar. In January she withstood the pressure-packed burden of being Australia's great hope at the Australian Open to make her first Slam quarterfinal. Now, playing on her least favored surface, she is into her first Slam semifinal.
"Oh, it's incredible," Barty said. "I felt for myself and my team, we have approached this clay court season a little bit differently to others. Have really enjoyed it, embraced it. Have been playing some pretty good tennis.
"Ultimately I feel like when I'm able to play my game style and my kind of tennis, I can match it with everyone regardless what surface it's on."
Regardless of her remaining results, Barty will be the first Australian ranked in the Top 5 of the WTA rankings since Samantha Stosur in August 2012.
"I think my consistency over the last 18 months has been so much better than it had previously throughout my career," Barty said. "I think we have approached this clay court season to really enjoy it. I think that was first and foremost. And to know I don't have to change the way that I play too much. It's about going out there, getting exposure to it, trying to get as many matches as possible. I feel like I'm learning every single match.
"Obviously I'm doing some things very well. There are still some things I'd love to do better, regardless of what surface I'm playing on. But it's been an incredible few months to start off the year and definitely just riding that wave at the moment."
No.8 Barty is the highest-ranked player left in the semifinals, a slate that includes Britain's Johanna Konta and teenagers Marketa Vondrousova and Amanda Anisimova. A player seeded outside the Top 10 has won Roland Garros just three times.
Barty faces 17-year-old Anisimova on Friday for a spot in the French Open final. All four women are playing in their first Roland Garros semifinal, and for Barty, Vondrousova, Anisimova, it is their first Slam semifinal across the board.
"Even though it's a first time for a few of us, and Jo has obviously had some exposure to semifinals before, you can't take absolutely anything away from them," Barty said. "They have played amazing tennis.
"Even though they don't have a seeding next to their name necessarily doesn't mean they're any less of a player.
"I think they have played an incredible tournament obviously to be in this position, and they're enjoying it. I think it's an opportunity for all four of us to go out there and try and continue that"
Barty said the tournament has felt very calm throughout the fortnight.
"I actually said to Tyzzer (coach Craig Tyzzer) a couple days ago, this tournament has felt very quiet to me," Barty said. "It's been relaxed. And it's been quite bizarre because we are at a Slam, obviously. But in my mind, it's been a very quiet tournament.
"I feel like I'm playing some of the best tennis that I have. Today was certainly some of the best tennis I have played on clay in my career, and particularly over the last month.
"But it's an exciting position to be in and tomorrow hopefully we can do much of the same."