Ashleigh Barty was preparing to toast not just her French Open success but a remarkable three-year journey after lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in Paris.
The likeable Australian won the first grand slam singles title of her career in dominant fashion with a 6-1 6-3 victory over Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova.
“For the last fortnight, the stars have aligned for me,” said Barty. “I have been able to play really good tennis when I’ve needed it. I never dreamt that I’d be sitting here with this trophy here at the French Open.”
A child prodigy who won the Wimbledon junior title at 15, Barty walked away from the sport three years later after feeling her enthusiasm drained by the pressure.
“I never closed any doors, saying, ‘I’m never playing tennis again’,” she said. “For me, I needed time to 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.
“It’s obviously a part of my life that I needed to deal with, and I feel like it was the best decision that I made at the time, and it was an even better one coming back.”
Barty’s sabbatical included a spell playing professional cricket for Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League, but by the start of 2016 she was ready to return to the court.
Her singles comeback came three years ago this week at a minor tournament in Eastbourne where Barty, without a ranking, came through qualifying and reached the semi-finals.
Her trajectory has been upwards ever since. By the end of 2017 she was in the top 20, and she broke into the top 10 after winning what had been the biggest singles title of her career at the Miami Open in March.
On Monday, she will be ranked second in the world and only 136 points behind world number one Naomi Osaka.
Barty has certainly exceeded the expectations she had when she decided to commit to tennis once more.
“I think a new perspective in my life and in my career, it’s brought this new belief, I suppose, and this feeling of belonging at the very top level,” she said. “I feel like I’m playing some really good tennis. I know when I play my best tennis, I can match it against the world’s best.”
The big surprise is not that Barty won a grand slam title, for her game is technically one of the best in the world and she has a terrific natural instinct, but that she did so on clay.
Last year, Barty remarked that every match on the surface was a match closer to her favoured grass – how times change.
“It’s a love/hate relationship,” she said with a smile. “I said to my team at the start of the year I was just worried about falling over.
“And I can successfully say that we got to the end of the clay-court season and I did not fall over once. So I’m pretty pumped with that.”
This was a meeting of two first-time finalists, with 19-year-old Vondrousova having carried her superb form into Roland Garros.
The Czech left-hander had not dropped a set during the tournament but Barty was simply far too strong and she wrapped up victory in an hour and 10 minutes.
The Australian had survived a roller-coaster clash with Amanda Anisimova in the semi-finals but never wavered here.
“I just kept saying to myself, I may never get this opportunity ever again, so try and grab it with both hands,” she said. “I felt like for me it was the perfect tennis match. It was amazing.”
Vondrousova admitted she was given “a lesson” by Barty but she will rise to 16 in the rankings and will surely have many more chances.
She said: “Of course I’m a little bit sad now, because I lost. But it was a great two weeks. I think she was just too good today. I think she played an amazing match. I didn’t have too many chances.
“I’m just really proud of myself that I was in the final here. I can’t really believe it still because it’s really a huge thing for me. I think it’s going to change my life now.”
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