The 2019 Fed Cup semifinals represented a feast of tension-soaked, high-quality, empty-the-tank tennis. Caroline Garcia, Simona Halep, and Victoria Azarenka starred for their respective countries — Halep in particular even though her Romanian team did not advance to the final — but there is no question that Ashleigh Barty was the best player of them all.
This isn’t a surprising development so much as it is a very potent and instructive one.
If Garcia still struggles to play well on the normal tour, she is able to find her best tennis in Fed Cup competition. Give Garcia loads of credit for shrugging off her singles loss to Halep on Sunday by winning doubles with Kiki Mladenovic to win the tie for France against Romania. That was an enormous display of resilience under pressure. Yet, it remains that Garcia — who can play terrific tennis — needs to find a way to carry her Fed Cup identity and mindset into her regular tour life. Garcia owns half of the tennis equation, but not all of it.
Halep is and has been that kind of player. Her performance over the weekend was not a revelation so much as confirmation of what we already know.
Barty, over the weekend and in this 2019 season, is becoming that kind of player. This Fed Cup season, especially the semifinal win for Australia against Belarus, has revealed a player who is increasing becoming the kind of player who is fully comfortable in all kinds of big-stage moments. This semifinal tie against Belarus marked one more step in Barty’s consistent evolution, another rung up the ladder for a player who continues to rise in the larger workings of global tennis.
I could dump a lot of words into your brain, but this tweet tells the story far more concisely and powerfully than I ever could:
What a star @ashbar96 is 🌟
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) April 21, 2019
We who comment on and write about tennis do not say things over and over again because we are lazy, but because basic truths are constantly reaffirmed and merit repeating in the grand theater of sport. With Ashleigh Barty, it merits repeating that a lot of tennis players are very talented at hitting a tennis ball; the innergame is where players separate themselves from the rest.
Barty has grown tactically, in that she now has a better feel for how and when to hit the various shots at her disposal, but that tactical improvement is a product of being clearer in the mind, more lucid and less burdened in terms of making all the split-second decisions tennis players have to make. Barty’s mind is a sea of calm amid the storms of crunch-time pressure. Only the very best tennis players go 6-0 in two Fed Cup sessions and make history at this tournament, which has existed for over half a century.
Did we expect Ash Barty to win Miami before the tournament began? No, we did not (with perhaps a few specific exceptions). However, after she won, it certainly seemed that the win was not a fluke or an aberration. It seemed like the Miami Open was an example of a young and talented tennis player discovering how to play.
The Australia-Belarus semifinal seemed to confirm everything which emerged in Miami.
Ashleigh Barty is playing the way a great tennis player should.
This doesn’t feel like an isolated or temporary run of good form. This feels like something which is going to last, something which will manifest itself many more times in the next several years.