SYDNEY (Reuters) - World number one Ash Barty has a bit of time on her hands after deciding to skip the U.S. Open and has spent some of it promoting tennis in indigenous communities in the far north of Australia.
The 24-year-old French Open champion became the first Indigenous Australian since Evonne Goolagong Cawley to top the world rankings when she hit number one last July.
Indigenous Australians suffer disproportionately from many debilitating health issues such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, conditions where regular exercise can make a big difference.
Barty, who is an indigenous ambassador for Tennis Australia, has spent a week in the tropical north of her home state of Queensland working with local Aboriginal youngsters.
"It's all about giving opportunity to indigenous youth and providing pathways through tennis to show what our sport can do for our culture," she said after visiting a Cairns school.
"It's really special to be able to give young kids, older kids, people of all ages that opportunity to grow and learn about how much sport has to offer in the way of connecting people."
Tennis Australia announced this week that they would be spending A$115,000 ($82,788.50) over the next three years to fund indigenous tennis programmes in Queensland.
"It's a massive stepping stone, it's a pathway for young kids to see an opportunity, not just in tennis, but in education, in experiences, in all of these different things," Barty added.
"Tennis brought joy and happiness to my life and to be able to experience that with kids all over the country is incredible."
Barty announced last week that she would not be travelling to New York for the U.S. Open, which is to run from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13, because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
($1=1.3891 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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