One of the most revealing and powerful ways in which an athlete proves she has evolved is to win a competition she wouldn’t have won a year ago. Wednesday in Madrid, Ashleigh Barty won a tennis match she wouldn’t have won 12 months ago.
Yulia Putintseva, who has made a few deep runs at Roland Garros and knows her way around a clay court, is not an easy opponent on red dirt. Barty had to deal with Poots, a challenge unto itself. The Australian also had to deal with the nasty and uncomfortable conditions on the court in Madrid:
Ash Barty says those were some of the toughest conditions she’s ever had to play in.
“I've played in a lot of wind before, but adding in the clay, where it’s swirling around and in your eyes, face, in your bag, in every what where…” #MMOpen
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 8, 2019
The day promised a lot of difficulties, and then the match began. Putintseva adjusted to the conditions at the start and tucked away the first set. Barty was battling herself, her opponent, and the conditions.
Frustration is a normal, human feeling in the face of suboptimal circumstances, determined opposition, and a general lack of harmony in one’s immediate environment.
Athletes are tested all the time along these lines. When they run into a tough foe, when they play in weather they don’t like, when their game isn’t responding well, when they run into all sorts of obstacles or sources of irritation, do they find their way out of the maze? Do they patiently dig in and reduce their job to the immediate moment and its most essential components, or do they allow the totality of a situation to crash down on them and sabotage their grand plans to win tennis tournaments?
A full week of tennis (or at a major tournament, a fortnight) might not involve many difficult matches, problematic opponents, or brutal weather conditions, and for elite players, most days don’t involve massive complexities or challenges. Yet, it takes only one bad day, one in-form opponent, or one windy afternoon to ruin the pursuit of a trophy or several hundred rankings points.
The great players work their way out of these traps. They find the escape route. They suffer and absorb the frustrations any other player would, but UNLIKE those other players who are No. 87 or No. 103, they successfully rise above the troubles and tensions they have to confront. They win on the days when the dust is blown into their eyes or their opponent starts brightly.
Ashleigh Barty calmly absorbed that first-set loss to Putintseva and responded by winning 12 of the last 15 games.
This would not have happened in May of 2018.
I won’t sit here and tell you that Ash Barty WILL be a top-five player for the rest of the decade, or the next five years, or that she is going to win five majors or stacks of Premier Mandatories and Premier 5s.
I AM going to tell you this much: Barty continues to do the kinds of things great players do. If she keeps this up, she will go somewhere.