It was a joy to behold: No, not just Ashleigh Barty winning her first major title at Roland Garros, but winning the world’s clay-court major championship while using a highly offensive slice.
Slices are supposed to be supremely effective on Wimbledon lawns, but Barty didn’t adhere to the timetable or the calendar. She didn’t feel the need to wait… and she was entirely correct to insist on playing her game regardless of what the “surface realities” might have suggested in Paris.
Marketa Vondrousova had the drop shot, but Barty was able to hit offensive slices in response to those droppers from the 19-year-old Czech who was making her first appearance in a major final. If one shot did define this match, Barty’s offensive slice — on red clay, on a wet day with not-very-fast court conditions — earned that distinction.
Yet, while giving due praise to Barty’s slice and her expert carving against Vondrousova — a deft bit of racquet skill which enabled her to win her first major and climb to World No. 2 — the bigger overall realization with Barty is that no single shot defines her.
We said it before and we must say it again after this Roland Garros title: Ashleigh Barty has had a Roger Federer epiphany in terms of knowing when to hit various kinds of shots. The raw substance of a potential champion existed the past few years, when Barty gradually returned from her adventure in the cricket world, but in 2019, it became increasingly clearer that Barty was understanding how to line up her game and play all her shots.
Talent isn’t what wins titles, or more precisely, HAVING talent doesn’t win titles. Everyone on tour has talent.
Applying the talent, unlocking the talent, understanding one’s talent, and — finally — TRUSTING one’s talent in big moments mark the champions of tennis, setting them apart from the (WTA) Caroline Garcias and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkovas or (ATP) Philipp Kohlschreibers and Grigor Dimitrovs of the sport.
Several players can hit every shot — or close to it — but can’t free up their minds, either tactically or situationally (or both), to apply their talent when it counts.
In 2019, Barty has demonstrated a newfound ability to put the pieces together. It was there at the Australian Open, where she made her first major quarterfinal. It was there even more when she won Miami. It was there when she reached the Madrid quarterfinals and gave some evidence that she could compete on clay.
Of course, Barty was not a top-tier favorite at Roland Garros — that would be revisionist history — but with Naomi Osaka having a very difficult draw in Barty’s quarter, the idea that Barty could reach the semifinals was hardly ludicrous. Looking back at the whole tournament, Barty winning was certainly not what many people expected, but it is just as certainly not an absurd or out-of-nowhere occurrence.
There was a foundation built in advance of this championship. There was ample evidence to suggest this run was possible.
Barty showed — with her resilience after losing the first set to Amanda Anisimova in the semifinals, and with her every-tool-in-the-toolbox display against Vondrousova in the final — how fully equipped she was to win Roland Garros.
This was no fluke or one-off. This was not aberrational. This was the product of a tennis player who has done well in Australia, the American Sunshine Swing in March, and now in the clay season… and we haven’t even arrived at grass season.
Barty has a Premier Mandatory title on hardcourts and Roland Garros on red dirt in 2019. Only complete tennis players do that. Ashleigh Barty has been developing a complete game throughout this season. She unveiled a complete game at this tournament in Paris. She sustained a complete game in the final, when it mattered most.
When John McEnroe lost the 1984 Roland Garros final against Ivan Lendl, it was seen by some as a sad moment for tennis, since it prevented the tennis community from seeing — and therefore acknowledging — that a finesse-based offensive game could work on red clay. The rest of the 1980s and — for that matter — the past three decades have regularly elevated baseline warriors to the top of the heap at the French Open in men’s tennis. McEnroe’s loss is still viewed in some parts of the tennis community as an opportunity which was lost.
Ash Barty, just 23, knows that nothing in life is guaranteed. She stepped away from tennis to see what cricket would be like. Barty knows that the road of life contains detours and cannot be taken for granted. Yet, her victory in 2019 reshapes her career, and gives her a chance to show, not just this year but for many years, that a surface does not have to limit one’s accomplishments or change how one plays the game.
That’s a fun notion to absorb. Let the Ash Bash — or the Barty Party — roll on.
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