Ash Barty has delighted tennis fans and children with a return to Melbourne Park to launch First Nations Day at the Australian Open.

A year after breaking the country’s 44-year Australian Open singles title drought, Barty was back — not on Rod Laver Arena but the neighbouring Margaret Court Arena — hitting with the First Nations ballkid squad.

With no top-100-ranked locals in the 2023 Australian Open women’s singles draw, officials would have loved to have had Barty defending her crown.

Alas, the retired champion is awaiting the birth of her first child this year with husband Garry Kissick.

The 26-year-old former world number one was chuffed to be back at the scene of her momentous triumph over American Danielle Collins in the final 12 months ago.

Barty was joined by her idol and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley to launch First Nations Day at Melbourne Park, a celebration of Indigenous art, culture and sport.

“It’s so nice to be back here again,” said Barty, a proud Ngarigo woman.

“To see plenty of good kids coming out, kids from all over the country.

“A day like today brings people together and I am happy to be here back on court hitting with yellow balls. It is few and far between these days.”

Goolagong Cawley, also a former world number one and a Wiradjuri woman, famously presented Barty with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on Rod Laver Arena last year.

Now mentoring Gold Coast prodigy Olivia Gadecki, Barty will no doubt be a keen observer when the 20-year-old wildcard plays Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk in the Open’s second round later on Wednesday.