PARIS, June 7, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
On a cold, damp and windy Friday afternoon at Roland Garros, they played on. In a match in which it seemed possessing the lead might have seemed dangerous, the semifinal that pitted No. 8 seed Ashleigh Barty and unseeded 17-year-old Amanada Anisimova was a head scratcher. One thing became certain, it’s not how you start but how you finish – and Barty, down a set and 0-3, saved her best tennis for the end.
The 23-year-old Aussie beat the 51st-ranked Anisimova from the United States, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3, in one hour and 55 minutes on Court Suzanne Lenglen to reach Saturday’s French Open final. She will take on another teenager, 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who defeated No. 26 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, 7-5, 7-6 (2). It will be the first Grand Slam final for both Barty and Vondrousova, and it will be the youngest final at a Grand Slam (combined age) since the 2008 Roland Garros final when Ana Ivanovic (20) defeated Dinara Safina (22).
Barty won 17 of the first 18 points of her match against Anisimova, who was attempting to become the lowest-ranked woman to reach a Roland Garros final – and it looked like her work would be done quickly. Barty was able to play to her power – hitting drop shots and backhand slice to perfection – and accumulated many points on errors. In just 15 minutes, she had taken a 5-0 lead. However, Anisimova recovered – she settled down after winning her first game of six in a row – and began to hit the ball early, placing in a few well-timed drop shots of her own. She saved two set points and, although Barty pulled even to force a tie-break to decide the first set, Anisimova took command early and pulled off an amazing comeback to win the tie-break 7-4.
Anisimova’s momentum continued into the second set and she jumped ahead 3-0, winning 17 consecutive points. It seemed she had Barty’s number. However, the Aussie wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. She went to work and, as the weather worsened, won 24 of the next 30 points – including six straight games – to earn the set 6-3, which leveled the semifinal match.
As the third set unfolded, both players held their serve, then exchanged service breaks to make it 2-all after one hour and 34 minutes as light rain began to fall over Roland Garros. However, they played on. Soon, Barty broke Anisimova a second time during the 40-minute third set to take a commanding 4-2 lead. After holding for 5-2, Barty gained three match points on Anisimova’s serve in the next game, but the American showed a never-say-die attitude and came alive to save each of them. Anisimova finally held, but wasn’t quite done yet. In the next game, Barty gained another match point at 40–0, and Anisimova saved another one – and another one – five in all. Finally, on her sixth match point try, Barty won with a picture-perfect, backhand slice down the line that advanced her to her first Grand Slam final. The Aussie seemed relieved, and as she reached the center of the court awaiting Anisimova’s arrival to shake hands, she leaned on the net with both of her hands for just a moment to soak in and reflect on what she had just accomplished.
“I’m just proud of myself the way I was able to fight and scrap and hang in there and find a way when I kind of threw away that first set,” said Barty during her post-match press conference. “That’s probably the best part that came out of today. But at the end of the day, it’s an amazing opportunity.”
Barty finished with 40 winners – including five service aces – and 33 unforced errors to Anisimova’s 21 winners and 41 unforced errors. She converted eight of 20 break-point opportunities and outpointed Anisimova 103-87.
Anisimova reflected on her match, remaining upbeat. “I started off pretty rough,” she said. “I was kind of, like, frozen and I couldn’t really get into my game. And then, when I was down 5-0, I just tried to keep the ball in the court. … But at the end of the day, I did make it to the semifinals for the first time. So, it’s a positive week for me.”
Meanwhile, the unseeded Vondrousova, ranked 38th, gained confidence and momentum against Konta, who came in as the only Roland Garros semifinalist to have previously played in a Grand Slam semifinal. She overcame a nervous start – losing the first 10 points of the match – and saved three set points in the opening set, then came from a break down to triumph after one hour and 45 minutes on Court Simonne Mathieu. With her victory Friday, Vondrousova avenged a three-set loss (6-3, 3-6, 6-1) to Konta in the Rome quarterfinals last month.
“I’m just really happy with my game,” said Vondrousova, who made her Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros in 2017. “It’s not happening every day, right? It was a very tough match for me. I beat her for my first time in my life, so it’s amazing.”
Vondrousova won 65 percent (32 of 49) of her first-serve points and was effective in winning points (14 of 23, 60 percent) on her second serve, too. She controlled the net, winning 10 of 12 points, and broke Konta’s serve four times in nine opportunities. The Czech finished with 21 winners and 22 unforced errors, while Konta hit 33 winners but committed 41 unforced errors. Vondrousova outpointed Konta 84-74.
“It’s hard to lose any match like this, but I think my opponent played really well,” said Konta afterward. “I’m proud in how I tried to find a way out there. I’m proud in how I tried to work the points, how I tried to play out there against her. It just didn’t go my way.
“There is nothing for me to be disappointed in or upset about. I mean, I lost a tennis match, but I also won five. I can only take the good things from that.”
By the numbers
• With her semifinal win, Ashleigh Barty is the first Australian to reach the French Open singles final since Samantha Stosur in 2010. She is also the first woman to reach 30 win on the WTA Tour this season. Regarding of how she fares in Saturday’s final against Marketa Vondrousova, Barty will crack the Top 5 when the new WTA rankings are released next Monday.
• Marketa Vondrousova became the first teenager to advance to the Roland Garros final since 2007, when then-19-year-old Ana Ivanovic achieved the feat. She’s also the first Czech to reach the title match in Paris since Lucie Safarova in 2015.
• Regardless of who wins Saturday’s final, either Ashleigh Barty and Marketa Vondrousova will be the fourth consecutive woman to win their maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. In 2016, it was Garbiñe Muguruza, followed in 2017 by Jelena Ostapenko, and, finally, in 2018, it was Simona Halep.
What they’re saying
No. 26 seed Johanna Konta after losing her semifinal match to Marketa Vondrousova: “I don’t feel like I came into this week trying to prove anything to anybody, including myself. I have been playing every tournament this season and even the past season for me and for my own enjoyment and development and belief in how I can get better. And I definitely felt I continued on that process, on that journey this fortnight in trying to be better, trying to play better, trying to just improve. I felt I did that.”