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.”
Rafael Nadal defeated his great rival Roger Federer to reach his 12th French Open final.
The match, a 39th meeting between the two men, was played in exceptionally windy conditions at Roland Garros but Federer was unable to blow the defending champion off course.
After two tight sets, Nadal turned the screw to win 6-3 6-4 6-2 and add another victory to the five previous ones he had over Federer on the Paris clay.
Federer insisted he was looking forward to the challenge having decided this year to return to a tournament he had not played since 2015.
The 37-year-old had turned the momentum of their rivalry around with five straight wins, all on hard courts, and had been in fine form this tournament, but this would quickly have felt awfully familiar.
Not that any of their previous encounters were in conditions quite like this. While the threatened rain held off, the wind sent the ball swirling off course off both men’s rackets and whipped the clay into their eyes.
The second set was central to Federer’s hopes. His tactic of drop-shotting into the wind was an effective one, and he broke serve to lead 2-0 only to lose serve himself straight away.
Nadal then broke his opponent from 40-0 in the ninth game before serving out for a two-sets-to-love lead.
Federer received a warning for ball abuse when he angrily smashed one into the crowd after being broken again in the third game of the third set, and from there the end was swift.
Nadal improved his record against the Swiss to 24 wins and 15 losses and will face either Novak Djokovic or Dominic Thiem as he chases an 18th grand-slam title.
Seventeen-year-old Amanda Anisimova produced a stunning performance to defeat defending champion Simona Halep in the French Open quarter-finals.
Anisimova is the first player born in the 2000s to reach the last eight at a slam and she overcame her nerves to hit Halep off the court in a 6-2 6-4 victory.
Halep’s defeat means there is guaranteed to be a first-time slam champion come Saturday, with Britain’s Johanna Konta the only one of the remaining quartet who had ever reached a singles semi-final before.
If Anisimova can keep playing like this, there is no reason it cannot be her. She is the youngest semi-finalist at Roland Garros since Nicole Vaidisova in 2006 and is yet to drop a set.
The daughter of Russian immigrants to the United States, she has been a rising star for a number of years and made her grand slam breakthrough by reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open.
A prodigious ball-striker – particularly off her backhand side – and a fine mover, the 51st-ranked American raced through the first set, with Halep simply unable to find any answer.
Anisimova the surged into a 4-1 lead in the second set before the nerves kicked in and Halep fought back to level at 4-4.
Anisimova saved a break point to stop the rot and in the end it was Halep who was the more jittery player, serving a double fault to cough up a match point, which her opponent took with a backhand winner.
In the last four, Anisimova will take on another first-time grand slam semi-finalist in Australia’s Ashleigh Barty.
The eighth seed is more thought of as a threat on faster surfaces but she has been in superb form this season and has carried that onto the clay.
Barty was a 6-3 7-5 winner over 14th seed Madison Keys, taking her second opportunity to serve out the victory.
Provided by Press Association Sport