Just over two years after her return to tennis, Ashleigh Barty, coming into the French Open as the tournament’s eighth seed, took a comprehensive 6-4, 6-1 win over Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova.
It was a clinical performance from Barty to start the match, with the Australian not only looking in excellent form but also completely unpressured, and breezing through games with consummate ease. It almost seemed as though the 23-year-old could do no wrong. With that win, Barty also ended a 46-year drought to become the first Australian woman since Margaret Court in 1973 to win the women’s singles at Roland Garros. But as she picked up her trophy on Saturday, Barty avoided discussing the former No 1, who has in past years expressed homophobic views and lashed out at a number of Barty’s contemporaries.
Instead, it was to a number of other great players that she paid tribute — the former World No 1 Evonne Goolagong Cawley, with whom she shares an indigenous Australian heritage, and to former doubles No 1 Samantha Stosur, who, in the years after Goolagong Cawley, was one of the biggest faces in Australia’s women’s tennis.
In Barty, Australia have a champion who is unafraid of speaking up for what she believes in, asserting herself, and standing up for what is right, and over the course of her run through Roland Garros, and indeed, in the final, showed exactly that.
In the final, it was the Ash Barty show from the get-go; Barty served, broke, served and broke in quick succession, with Marketa Vondrousova managing only a singular break back against the Australian.
The teen, less experienced than Barty on the Grand Slam stage perhaps, just did not seem to find her footing early on. Vondrousova hit only two winners to a staggering 12 unforced errors, and the entirety of the first set seemed more like a practice game for the now World No 2 Barty.
It was only some way through the second set that we saw the Vondrousova, who toppled seeds in quick succession, attempt to mark a comeback. But it was a little too late for her.
2019 truly has been a breakout year for Barty, a prodigious athlete who had successes across sports. But it must be noted that her meteoric re-rise up the rankings was, in its most significant parts, due to consistent hard work from the 23-year-old, and it was perhaps her 2017 season that truly made that return possible.
Barty has always been a tennis prodigy: She began playing at only four, showed skill early on, and was World No 2 in the juniors in her teens. At only 15, she had already won her first Grand Slam title — Wimbledon juniors. She has made no secret of the fact that grass is her favourite surface, and although her game has been successful across surfaces, it is still most suited to grass. However, by no means was her success a flash in the pan, as those of so many teen Grand Slam winners have been before.
In 2010, at 16, she earned a wildcard to the Australian Open — the youngest player there. Next year, she would prove her immense prowess at the doubles. Only two years after her Girls’ Singles win at Wimbledon, in 2011, Barty made the finals at not one, but three Grand Slam women’s doubles events with compatriot Casey Dellacqua. She had also had moderate success in the singles during this time, but while her doubles successes continued into the next year, she struggled in the singles — physically, and most importantly, mentally.
At only 18, following the 2014 US Open, a burnt-out Barty would take the decision to step away from tennis: Tired and burned out, she said in an interview at the time that she wanted to “live the life of a normal teenager." She would take up cricket shortly thereafter, playing for the Brisbane Heat in the women’s Big Bash League; her coaches at the time said she had the potential to “be playing for Australia in a year’s time”. With strong batting and bowling figures, Barty trained and played cricket in the 2015 season.
At the end of that season, she had dropped to 623 in the rankings when, in 2016, she announced she would be returning to tennis full-time. By the end of that season, she had reached 272. To show you just how immense Barty’s rise has been, the player started 2017 ranked 271 in the world.
She finished the season ranked 17th.
Along that season, Barty reached Round 3 at her home Grand Slam and the US Open. She would also win her first WTA singles title at the Malaysian Open, then win the doubles title too. Despite starting most tournaments that year as a Qualifier, Barty appeared to remove opponents with ease to go fairly deep into tournaments on hard courts, clay, and grass, and that is perhaps the strongest indicator of her all-court game — one that removed a number of seeded players from a number of tournaments that year.
Still in her teens, and starting off with no significant ranking to speak of, Barty steamrolled through 2017 — her year of transformation in every possible way.
At the end of 2018, having already made the finals at all four doubles Grand Slams, Barty, with CoCo Vandeweghe, won her first ever title at the US Open. She had already been successful on her favourite surface, grass, winning the Nottingham Open title, but the US Open marked her first ever Major.
Barty’s playing skill has never been in question. She knows how to craft the points, and we saw that throughout her French Open campaign. She has an arsenal of shots to combat any, and every opponent. She also has a backhand slice admired by everyone in and out of the game, and the ability to smash balls and send her opponents to every part of the court.
For all her immense skill, though, Barty’s biggest weapon was, and will remain, her resolve. Knowing when to step away is just as important as any aspect of the game and for her, she said following her title win on Saturday, that she may “not even have been sitting here, having won this” if she had not taken that break.
Barty served up 38 aces over the course of the tournament and showed just why her serve is the best part of her game. Vondrousova, who had not dropped a set en route the final, was utterly flummoxed at the end.
She has often described tennis as a “lonely sport” — but Barty, if social media is any indication — is one of the most popular, well-liked players on the circuit. Humble and affable in interviews, the 23-year-old still comes across as “one of us”, if only we were all impressively skilled at tennis and had the ability to win a Grand Slam title or two.
A straight sets win to take the French Open title isn’t half bad for someone who once considered Roland Garros as just a stepping stone to Wimbledon.
Updated Date: Jun 09, 2019 11:28:04 IST