PARIS, June 8, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
The Paris skies above Roland Garros were ominous, mostly cloudy and grey for Championship Saturday. Less than an hour before the scheduled 3 p.m. start of the French Open women’s singles final, they turned uncooperative as it began to pummel rain while Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem were desperately trying to complete their men’s semifinal match (which Thiem won) that was interrupted a day earlier by high winds and rain. Once the skies cleared, and about 90 minutes after the women’s final was originally supposed to begin, No. 8 seed Ashleigh Barty from Australia and unseeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, ranked 38th, finally commenced their Grand Slam final.
Quickly and without warning, it became a very one-sided affair that favored the more experienced and composed Barty. Never one to change her facial expression, like a good poker player – whether winning or losing – the Aussie took advantage of her opportunities.
Soon, much too soon for a major final, it was all over – in just 70 minutes. For the first time in 46 years, a champion from Down Under was crowned in the City of Lights.
Barty won the Roland Garros women’s singles championship with a comprehensive 6-1, 6-3 victory over the 19-year-old Vondrousova. It earned the Aussie her first Grand Slam title. On her first championship-point opportunity, Barty hit an overhead smash angled from by the far-right corner near the net to clinch the title. Soon after, Barty raised both of her arms to acknowledge her triumph on red clay. Then, she put both of her hands on top of her black Fila baseball cap, perhaps, looking stunned for a moment, but always maintaining a hint of a smile.
The 23-year-old Barty, a native of Ipswich, Queensland, became the first Australian champion at Roland Garros since Margaret Court won the French Open in 1973. She’s also the first from her country to win a major singles title since Samantha Stosur won the U.S. Open in 2011.
“It’s been the most amazing journey and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it,” said Barty during an on-court interview. “I’m learning to enjoy playing on clay more.”
After the women’s semifinals were relocated off Court Philippe Chatrier in order to keep Friday’s men’s semifinals on schedule, then surviving through bouts of blustery winds that pelted Court Suzanne Lenglen and Court Simonne Mathieu, it seemed almost like added insult to injury what unfolded on Saturday – the completion of a long men’s match with an hour-long rain delay sandwiched in between, which kept the women’s final from starting on time.
However, once they walked out on Court Philippe Chatrier at 4:25 p.m. for their championship match – the first Grand Slam final for both Barty and Vondrousova, and the Czech’s first match on the biggest show court at Stade Roland Garros the entire fortnight – Barty went to work.
Despite a 2-5 career record at Roland Garros before this year, Barty came in as the favorite against the left-handed Vondrousova, who featured a drop shot of her own that had proven as effective as Barty’s. “It’s my thing,” she said after her semifinal win over Johanna Konta of Great Britain, 7-5, 7-6 (2) on Friday. Barty had beaten the Czech twice in their previous encounters, on grass in Birmingham, England in 2017, and last year in Cincinnati on a hard court. She advanced to face Vondrousova with a come-from-behind 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 win over another teenager, 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova of the United States.
From the outset, Barty applied her kick serve and topspin forehands to keep Vondrousova on the defensive and threw in some slice and drop shots as an added element of surprise. Nine minutes in, Barty had a 3-0 lead and the unforced errors began to add up for Vondrousova – 12 in the first set alone. The Aussie won the 28-minute first set on her first set-point opportunity by blasting a down-the-line forehand winner, her 13th of the match.
Barty maintained her poise and continued to apply pressure to Vondrousova as the second set unfolded in her favor, building an early 2-0 lead. Although the Czech teen began to settle into her service games, Barty quickly found herself ahead 5-3 and needing to win just one more game to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen trophy that’s awarded to the women’s champion. She erased a 15-40 deficit and capped a 10-point game with a six-shot rally, culminated by the overhead winner, to clinch the title.
It all added up to remarkable win for Barty and distress for Vondrousova, whose best previous finish at Roland Garros had been reaching the second round in 2017. When the defeated Vondrousova arrived at the net, she and Barty shared a warm hug and walked off the court together. Barty’s 1,000-watt smile continued to radiate throughout Court Philippe Chatrier for many minutes afterward while Vondrousova sat down and buried her head in a towel, no doubt crying.
In what Barty described during a post-match TV interview as “the perfect match,” she finished with 27 winners to 26 unforced errors, won 15 of 20 net-point opportunities and lost only four points on her second serve. She was broken just once while breaking her opponent’s serve five times. While Barty showed all of her best stuff – winning 16 of her last 18 points on her serve – there was little Vondrousova could do to turn the match around. She ended with 10 winners and 22 unforced errors. Barty outpointed Vondrousova 69-49.
In accepting her consolation award, Vondrousova congratulated Barty and said to her, “Thank you for giving me a lesson today,” which drew light laughter from everyone and helped to ease the tension of the Czech’s loss. “You’re a nice person, so you deserve it.
“Even though I didn’t get the win today, I really enjoyed my time here. I’m just very happy with everything that happened.”
Meanwhile, with her biggest victory, Barty will rise to a career-best No. 2 in the new WTA rankings next week, while Vondrousova moves up to No. 16. Three years ago, Barty was ranked in the 600s and gave up tennis to pursue a pro career playing cricket. Since returning to tennis, under the guidance of her coach, Craig Tyzzer, and others, Barty has played her best tennis – and just as importantly, is having fun on the court.
“There are so many people who support me and love me behind the scenes that help me come out here and have fun. This will be a celebration for all of them,” said Barty, interviewed by NBC’s Mary Carillo, after the trophy ceremony.
“I told myself I just may never get this opportunity again, so I tried to grab it with both hands, tried to play my brand of tennis. It was just incredible today.”
What they’re saying
• Howard Bryant, ESPN.com, appearing on NPR’s Weekend Edition: “At the end of this tournament, the fans are going to be talking about the rain instead of the players.”
• John McEnroe, NBC-TV analyst, after Ashleigh Barty won championship point: “What a great effort she put forth today. It was never in doubt. … She served extremely well, which isn’t easy to do when you’re in your first Grand Slam final. She used a variety of her game; her slice backhand caused all types of problems. She sensed her opponent was extremely wound up. Barty played just about the perfect match.”
What they’re tweeting
• Andrea Petkovic (@andreapetkovic), German tennis player who lost to Ashleigh Barty, 6-3, 6-1, in the third round at Roland Garros: “This girl kicked mine and everyone else’s ass this fortnight. @ashbar96 Already holding that trophy like a champion.”
• Daren Cahill, former coach for Simona Halep: “So so bloody good, Ashleigh Barty 👏 We Aussies are all so damn proud of her and what’s she’s done for Aussie tennis. And more importantly, the way she’s gone about it. A real down to earth young lady. Well done 2019 @rolandgarros champion 👏 @ashbar96 @CTyzzer”