'Short' Ash Barty opens up on being bullied as a teen
ASHLEIGH Barty has revealed how childhood bullies claimed she'd never make it as a tennis star.
A decade on and Barty will launch her Australian Open title assault on Monday night as the first home top seed in the women's singles in 43 years.
Being subjected to the naysayers is half the reason the world No.1 agreed to be front and centre of the new #PlayForYou campaign, which encourages girls to stay in sport.
A Sport Australia AusPlay 2018 survey reported that 36 per cent - or more than one in three girls - stopped playing sport before turning 18.
Debilitating peer pressure to look good and obsession over body image were identified as key factors in why teenagers drop out of sport.
"When I heard about the campaign, it really hit home with all the struggles and the battles and all the things I went through during my years as a teenager, and then even more so as an athlete playing," Barty told AAP ahead of her Open opener against Lesia Tsurenko on Monday.
Barty said it was important for teenage girls to ignore social pressures and doubters, like she had since returning to tennis in 2016 following an 18-month hiatus after feeling lost and homesick on tour.
"I was told a few times along the way that I was too short to make it," the reigning French Open champion said.
"More so in passing comment. I'm not the tallest girl out there, that's for sure, but for me it's about not letting anyone else tell you what you can and can't do. It's about going out there and chasing your dreams.
"That's the hardest thing - becoming vulnerable and really putting yourself out there, because there's nothing more heartbreaking and crushing than when do put yourself out there and don't get the result you're after.
"It's absolutely soul-crushing.
"But the satisfaction that you get and the feeling that you get when you kind of release and play for yourself, that was a massive part if my development over the last three years."
For all her ups and downs, Barty says sport is her "way of life".
"It was just realising and recognising all the good things that happened as well and all the incredible things that sport brought for me, not just tennis but cricket as well and all of the incredible people that I've met," she said.
"It's more than just sport and, for me, it's a passion, it's a lifestyle and it's a way of life and it doesn't matter what sport it is. Sport brings people together and for me that was probably the biggest thing.
"There's good and bad in everything and there is definitely more good than bad in sport."
A 10 handicapper in golf, former professional cricketer and diehard Richmond AFL fan, the 23-year-old "played everything" growing up.
"Nothing with any structure. No other lessons than tennis, but I played backyard cricket, I played netball with my sisters, I played golf with Dad and kicked the footy at every opportunity, both rugby and AFL," Barty said.
"I just learnt so many skills playing so many different sports. I learnt how to communicate with people, I learnt how to put myself out there.
"Even now with my (three-year-old) niece Lucy, I do it all the time. She wants to play tennis, she wants to kick the ball, throw the ball or whatever it is. I go, 'Let's go, this is awesome.'"