Ashleigh Barty: From A Tennis Prodigy To A Skilled Tennis Professional

Ashleigh Barty (photo: Julien Crosnier / FFT)

PARIS, June 9, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Ashleigh Barty went from being a tennis prodigy who briefly traded her racquet for a cricket bat to becoming a skilled tennis professional with a solid all-court game. Only 23 years-old, the native of Ipswich, Queensland, is now the queen of the red clay and the pride of Australia.

On Saturday, the affable and talented Barty triumphed over Marketa Vondrousova, 19, from the Czech Republic, 6-1, 6-3, to win her first Grand Slam title at the French Open while playing in her first Grand Slam final. She became the first Australian woman to win the French Open since Margaret Court in 1973.

“For the last fortnight, the stars have aligned for me. I have been able to play really good tennis when I’ve needed it,” said the No. 8 seed Barty during her post-match press conference.

“This is just incredible. I never dreamt that I’d be sitting here with this trophy here at the French Open. I mean, obviously we have dreams and goals as children, but this is incredible.

“I just kept saying to myself, I may never get this opportunity ever again, so try and grab it with both hands.”

At just 5-feet-5-inches (1.66 m), Barty possesses an abundance of natural skills, lower body strength and tremendous hand-eye coordination. Her overall game is technically sound – and she trusts it. With Barty, her game includes a dynamic kick serve, plenty of topspin forehands, lots of slice, and for an element of surprise, a few timely and well-placed drop shots.

“It’s been a natural progression of becoming stronger, not growing any taller, but getting stronger and being able to trust myself and hit my spots on my serve,” Barty explained.

“My serve is a massive part of my game, and I try and think my way around the court. I know where opponents like to return, and if they shift their position, where they return. And I try and expose those spots as best that I can.”

Throughout the Paris fortnight, it became apparent how Barty developed her talent into a game that’s full of artistry as well as movement and power. Against the left-handed Vondrousova, whom she had already beaten twice, the beguiling Barty took control of the match early by winning points with her forehand, using her sliced backhand to force her opponent into committing errors (22 unforced errors), and hitting winners (27). Her adroit volley skills enabled her to win 15 of 20 points at the net. It seemed there was little Barty could do wrong.

“I felt like for me it was the perfect tennis match, considering the situation, the conditions. It was amazing,” said Barty.

It’s a testament to what Barty’s done in just three years after stepping away from the sport after she struggled with the expectations she had set after being a tennis prodigy and winning the Wimbledon junior girls’ title at age 15. She was ranked in the WTA Top 50 in doubles.

“For me, I needed time step away, to live a normal life, because this tennis life certainly isn’t normal. I think I needed time to grow as a person, to mature,” recalled Barty.

Barty took up professional cricket in Australia in 2015. Then, after missing the “one-on-one battle, the ebbs and flows, the emotions you get from winning and losing matches,” she came back to tennis.

“You can only get them when you are playing and when you put yourself out on the line and you become vulnerable and try and do things that no one thinks of,” said Barty.

“I think it was just a natural progressional for me coming back to tennis. Certainly, it’s always been a big part of my life. Tennis will always be a big part of my life.”

Starting from the bottom, ranked 623rd, she had to qualify just to get into main draws. Now, with her first Grand Slam title secured, she will be ranked No. 2 in the world, behind No. 1 Naomi Osaka, on Monday. This year, she’s won tournaments on both a hard court (Miami) and clay (Roland Garros), and compiled a 33-6 win-loss record in all competitions (27-5 in WTA events).

“It’s about creating your own path, creating your own journey, and embracing it,” Barty expressed. “There’s no formula how to, you know, become a professional tennis player. It’s your own, it’s unique, your own journey, your own path, your own experiences.

“I think the best thing to do is learn from your mistakes, learn from every single experience that you have, whether it’s good or bad. That’s the only way to go about it, only way to grow as a person and as a player.”

Throughout Australia and the rest of the tennis world, fellow pros offered hardy congratulations via social media for the engaging Barty soon after she won her first Grand Slam championship. She heard from Hall of Fame great Evonne Goolagong Cawley, one of her idols, who like her is an indigenous Australian and won Roland Garros in 1971. Barty was touched when she lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen and saw Cawley’s name inscribed on the trophy.

“What a wonderful result for Australia and how exciting that another Aboriginal has won at the French. I’m almost scared to say it but it’s now 48 years ago since I won my first Slam there too,” Cawley expressed via Tennis Australia.

“Tennis Australia and all lovers of tennis here and around the world will be delighted by the natural skills and flair Ash possesses.”

In sharing her personal narrative during her post-match press press conference, Barty admitted that there’s no way she would have won the French Open title if she hadn’t taken a sabbatical from tennis. Now that she’s back, she credits her team – coach Craig Tyzzer and mentor and performance coach Ben Crowe – for helping her thrive.

“I’m not the only person out there. I have an extraordinary group of people around me,” said Barty. “I love working with them every single day. They’re with me at the hardest times of my life, and there with me in some of the most amazing times. I think, for us, it’s a celebration of the journey we have been on for the last three years.”

Mladenovic/Babos win second Grand Slam title together

Kristina Mladenovic of France, who will rise to WTA Doubles World No. 1 on Monday, teamed with her childhood friend, Timea Babos from Hungary, to win their second Grand Slam doubles title together. The No. 2 seeds Mladenovic and Babos defeated Duan Ying-Ying and Zheng Saisai, both from China, 6-2, 6-3, on Sunday. The women’s doubles final preceded the men’s singles final on Court Philippe Chatrier.

During the one hour and 10 minute final, Mladenovic and Babos won 80 percent (28 of 35) of their first-serve points and 48 percent (25 of 52) of their receiving points. They took advantage of four service breaks against their opponents and outpointed Duan and Zheng 62-45. Mladenovic and Babos won on their second match-point opportunity.

“Each title in a Grand Slam is fabulous. I have not words to describe it,” said Mladenovic during a press conference that followed the trophy ceremony. “Every time it’s a huge title, an adventure. The weeks of Grand Slam tournaments are extremely long, and it’s my privilege to having gone through quite a few of them already.”

It was Mladenovic’s second French Open doubles title on the terre battue – she won in 2016 with Caroline Garcia – and her third Grand Slam women’s doubles title. She and Babos won the 2018 Australian Open. (Mladenovic has also won two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles with Daniel Nestor of Canada.)

“Every single one is very special and memorable and lots of emotions,” said Mladenovic. “But I think this one comes on top, I would say, somehow for me, because it’s very special.

“It’s my second in women’s doubles in Roland Garros, but I get to share it with Timea. I hope the whole globe knows how amazing this girl is to me.

“She’s a childhood friend. She’s my real friend. And once again, winning in Roland Garros for a French woman is incredible.”

Babos added: “I’m pretty thrilled. This is what we are working hard for. We are not necessarily doubles specialists, but it somehow turns out to be that we are really good at it, and we really complement each other well.”

Mladenovic becomes the 42nd woman to reach World No.1 in doubles since the WTA rankings were introduced in 1975.

Around Roland Garros

On Saturday, titles were awarded in boys’ and girls’ junior doubles as well as men’s and women’s wheelchair singles and doubles, and quad wheelchair men’s and women’s singles and doubles.

• The boys’ doubles final was captured by Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida of Brazil and Thiago Agustin Tirante of Argentina. The No. 5 seeds beat unseeded Flavio Cobolli of Italy and Dominic Stephan Stricker of Switzerland, 7-6 (3), 6-4. Meanwhile, the unseeded U.S. team of Chloe Beck and Emma Navarro won the girls’ title with a 6-1, 6-2 win over No. 4 seeds Alina Charaeva and Anastasia Tikhonova from Russia.

• No. 1 seed Dylan Alcott of Australia beat David Wagner of the United States, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, to win the quad wheelchair men’s singles final. Then, they paired to win the quad wheelchair men’s doubles title over Ymanitu Silva of Brazil and Koji Sugeno of Japan, 6-3, 6-3.

• The men’s wheelchair singles final was won by No. 2 seed Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina, who defeated Gordon Reid of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-3. Then, Fernandez and Shingo Kunieda of Japan teamed to upset No. 1 seeds Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer, both from France, 2-6, 6-2, 10-8, to win the men’s wheelchair doubles final.

• No. 1 seed Diede de Groot of the Netherlands triumphed over No. 2 seed Yui Kamiji of Japan, 6-1, 6-0 to win the women’s wheelchair singles. Then, she and Aniek van Koot of the Netherlands, the top seeds, won the women’s wheelchair doubles with a 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 2 seeds Marjolein Buis of the Netherlands and Sabine Ellerbrock of Belgium.

De Groot, 22, made history by becoming the first woman to hold women’s wheelchair singles titles at all four Grand Slams simultaneously.

Record number of spectators

During a press conference before Sunday’s men’s final, French Open tournament director Guy Forget noted that Roland Garros enjoyed a “record participation” of 520,000 spectators for this year’s tournament, which ran from May 20 through June 9. “We have exceeded the half-million threshold on which we stopped over the past years, and the tournament was sold out as of the first day of the opening of the ticket sales.”

Forget also said that in terms of broadcasters, an average of 1.3 million viewers (15.6% share) watched on France 2 throughout the host country, and Eurosport “also had extremely positive figures, increasing with respect to last year.” He also spoke positively of the exposure that the French Open received via digital platforms. “We have more than 5 million single visitors on, and 25 million active users on our App Roland Garros who have followed the tournament with a score which is very high, 4.3 stars on the stores.”

By the numbers

• By winning the French Open women’s title, Ashleigh Barty is the ninth different woman to win a major singles title in the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments. Six of the nine were first-time winners.

• En route to her lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen trophy, round-by-round, Barty beat: R1-Jessica Pegula, 6-3, 6-3. R2-Danielle Collins, 7-5, 6-1. R3-Andrea Petkovic, 6-3, 6-1. R4-Sofia Kenin, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0. QF-No. 14 Madison Keys, 6-3, 7-5. SF-Amanda Anisimova, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3. F-Marketa Vondrousova, 6-1, 6-3.

What they’re writing

• Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist, on Ashleigh Barty: “The key for Barty over these two unexpectedly successful weeks at Roland Garros has been her new, hard-won ability to remain focused on the present: to ignore the doubts swirling in her head, concentrate on the task and shot at hand, and let her remarkable talent flow from the baseline to the net.”

• Greg Baum, Sydney Morning Herald tennis writer, on Barty: “Ash Barty embodies so much of the way we like to think about ourselves. There’s her face, so open, so guileless. There’s her attitude, so unassuming. She’s athletic, but squat, which covers off on a few of us (the squat, that is). She doesn’t dress or make up to impress. She wears a bloody baseball cap!

“Ordinary should not be confused with unexceptional. She’s one of us, but she’s not. She’s one of what we’d like to be. She’s actually a bit of a genius.”