Tennis

The Australian Tennis Report: French Open Edition

Former cricketer beats non-cricketers

Also known as “Ash Barty versus the United States of America”.

Earlier this year, Australia took on the US in an away Fed Cup tie in Charleston.

Ash Barty played three times, and won all three matches.

This past fortnight, Ash played five Americans, and beat them all.

Forget about the illegal aliens, the true threat to the American people is a 5 Foot 4 woman from Ipswich.

And then throw in playing a German in Andrea Petkovic and the final against a Czech in Marketa Vondrousova, Ash played 7 matches at RG this past fortnight, against a mere 3 different countries.

That’s got to be a modern record.


PRELUDE

If there’s one advantage that the WTA has over the ATP right now, it’s parity.

With Serena on the wane, the women’s game is so even right now, that approximately 20 players can come into a major with a realistic chance of winning.

And that’s what we had yet again this past fortnight at Roland Garros, with all four women’s semi-finalists never having appeared in a major final, let alone won a major title.

After knocking out Madison Keys in the Quarter Finals in straight sets, our own Ash Barty, who had never made it past the 2nd Round in Paris, was into her first major semi-final, where she was set to take on the hyped up 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova, who brutally dispatched defending champion Simona Halep the day before.

Here’s an amazing fact- Amanda was born a fortnight before Lleyton Hewitt won his US Open title.

The future of the Barty Party was at stake.


Semi Final: Barty d. Anisimova 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 6-3

Due to the rain-affected scheduling, the WTA got shafted onto Court(s) Suzanne Lenglen and Simonne Mathieu- Showcourts 2 and 3, with the matches to start concurrently at 11am (The other Semi was Jo Konta vs Marketa Vondrousova).

On one hand, it’s another classic case of the women’s game getting the arse-end of the stick from a tournament organiser, but on the one hand, the Final was 28 hours away, and the ladies would need as much time as possible to recover, plus there was a threat of rain in the afternoon, which did ultimately affect the Djokovic-Thiem match.


1st Set: Anisomiva 7-6 (7-4)

One of the weirdest sets of tennis you’ll ever see.

With Richmond due to play 50 minutes before her semi-final started, Ash seemed determined to get back to the hotel and watch the game, which was evident in her start to the match, which threatened to be one of the all-time dominant sets in a major semi-final.

It was an absolute rout- She won 12 of the first 13 points of the match, and led 5-0 after some 12 minutes, with Anisimova unable to handle the famed Barty Slice.

It was interesting that in the 5th game, Anisimova won more points (2) than she had in the previous 4 games.

But then, as the bulldozing was set to be completed with an emphatic 14 minute bagel, Anisimova saved two set points down 15-40, and held for 5-1, winning more points in that game than she had in the previous 5.

And that’s when all hell broke loose.

Whatever confidence Anisimova gained from that hold was enormous, as Barty’s serve began to wane and the errors piled up, the American now had a head full of steam, and broke for 5-2.

She then held for 3-5, and I figured Ash would be able to serve things out, given the way the set had gone.

But nope- Anisimova just kept on coming, and was taking full advantage of Barty’s struggles on serve, managing to get herself back on serve to 4-5 from 0-5 down, and then held for 5-all, and then took advantage of Barty’s errors yet again to make it 6 games on the bounce, and remarkably, serving for the 1st Set.

But she couldn’t hold, as Barty heaped the pressure on, and some four break points later, stopped the rot and forced a tie-break.

Unfortunately, the Tie-Break seemed to be a microcosm of the 1st Set- Barty raced out to a 4-2 lead, and from there, it was all Anisimova, who took full advantage of three consecutive errors from Barty, and then finished off the set with a simple 1-2 forehand winner.

What really killed Ash during the 1st Set was her first serve- It was a mere 50% (Compared to AA’s 72%), she won only 9/16 points on her first serve and 7/19 points on her second serve, problems that became more pronounced as the set went on and Anisimova came back.

2nd Set: Barty 6-3

After completing the comeback, Anisimova kept her amazing run going, by holding serve, breaking Barty to love, and then holding to love for a 3-0 lead.

12 points played, 12 points won- When you include the tie breaker, it was some 17 consecutive points to Anisimova.

At this point, I made a remark online that Ash was just like Greg Norman, in that they’re both Queenslanders that infamously blew a massive lead at a major.

There’s a reason The Shark’s 1986 season was called “The Saturday Slam”… You’ll figure out why.

But as quickly as Anisimova got ahead, Ash got on the board and stopped the rot for 1-3, and then broke Anisimova to get back on serve, sparking another wild momentum swing.

Ash held for 3-all, and probably as a result of being a 17-year-old, Anisimova started feeling the pressure, as Barty once again put a blowtorch to the American’s serve, and despite saving one break point, Anisimova couldn’t prevent the second, and Barty was now 4-3 ahead.

Another hold to love and it was 5-3, and taking out the risk of having to serve for the set, Barty put the foot on the gas and clinically broke to love, claiming the 2nd set 6-3, having reeled off 6 games in a row, becoming the first player all tournament to claim a set off Anisimova.

After her first serve failed her in that 1st Set, there was marked improvement from Ash, serving 21/29 for the set (Although AA served at 80%), and also won 18/40 points while receiving, compared to Anisimova winning only 9/29.

3rd Set- Barty 6-3

This was it- A Final Set Deathmatch, with good old fashioned ‘advantage’ rules, and the winner to earn their first appearance in a major final.

Both players held serve to kick off the final set- Ash saved a break point and a deuce marathon to hold first- But ultimately at the next time of asking, it was Anisimova who struck first, taking advantage of a pair of Barty double faults to claim the break.

It would be the last time in the match that Amanda got a look in on Ash’s serve.

If the Barty Slice and the Barty Party became a trademark of Ash’s game this past fortnight, then her ability to recompose after falling behind will be a feature into the grass court season.

Yet again, Ash came out of the sit-down and raced to 0-40, but Anisimova yet again fought back to deuce, and then gave up a fourth break point by pushing a passing shot wide, and then Barty tied things up with a shot into the open court.

Ash held for 3-2, and then broke again for 4-2, and then held serve for 5-2 thanks to a beauty of a baseline pickup that ended up down the line, which Anisimova could do nothing serious about, allowing Barty to win the point with a forehand down the line.

Sitting on the brink of the final at 5-2, Barty raced to 0-40 and held three match points, but Anisimova yet again dug in and saved them all, leaving Barty to serve it out at 5-3.

She didn’t disappoint this time, racing out to a 40-0, and in one last desperate attempt, Anisimova saved the first two, but a dropshot at 40-30 was tracked down by Barty, the return was netted by Anisimova, and Ash Barty had won it.


With the berth in the Final, Ash was guaranteed a spot in the WTA’s Top 3, the first time an Australian woman had been ranked that high since Wendy Turnbull sat at No.3 in January 1985.

If beating one boom teenager wasn’t enough, another one stood in the way of the biggest Barty Party the world will ever see- The World No.38 from ‘Czechia’, Markéta Vondroušová.

Unfortunately, with Konta losing, we were denied an Ashes Final.


THE FINAL: Barty vs Vondroušová

The Czech Bounced, 6-1, 6-3

Between the two ladies, only Ash had played on the new Chatrier during the past fortnight, and that was huge, especially with the gale-force winds on display during Thursday and Friday in the Men’s Quarters & Semi-Finals.

The women’s final was due to start at 3pm local, but ended up getting put in a holding pattern due to the resumption of the Novak Djokovic-Dominic Thiem Semi-Final… which then delayed by rain.

With the way the weekend had gone, I expected the French to move the Women’s Final to Sunday and play it on the Bullring court.

Ultimately, Thiem won, and we got underway at 4:30pm.


1st Set- Barty 6-1

Right from the opening service game, Ash was mentally prepared for the biggest match of her life (Those Doubles Finals certainly helped), while Vondrousova looked tame, and made simple errors, but at the same time, she unable to deal with the combination of the fabled Barty Slice + the depth of Ash’s ground strokes.

As a result, it gave Barty a 2-0 lead, a near repeat of yesterday- After winning 14 of the first 15 points in the Semi-Final, Ash won 12 of the first 15 in the Final.

By comparison, Vondrousova seemed tame- She wasn’t going all out for winners, and some of the errors off her racquet were inexplicably bad.

When Ash raced away to go 4-0 up, I’d say most us were having bad flashbacks to last night’s opening set, and the blowing of the 5-0 lead.

But Vondrousova finally showed signs of life, and took advantage of Barty’s first double fault of the match, putting pressure on Ash in the rallies, and forcing the error to claim back a break for 1-4, and that was 5D chess from Ash, because you can’t blow a 5-0 lead if you don’t lead 5-0.

Vondrousova undid that good work by putting herself in a 0-30 hole with two weak errors, and then Barty hit an inch perfect dropshot to bring up 0-40.

The Czech did manage to save all three break points, but Barty brought up a fourth break of the game, aided by a favourable netcord on an approach from Vondrousova, which the Queenslander dispatched accordingly, and then broke serve when the Czech hit a forehand into the net.

Unlike last night, Ash showed no nerves in serving out the 1st Set, holding to 30 to claim the opener in 28 minutes, 6-1.

The Czech only hit 2 winners (Barty hit 13) for the set, compared to 12 unforced errors, most of which were fairly simple groundstrokes dumped into the net.

To state the obvious, giving up three games worth of unforced errors against a top player is a death wish.

2nd Set- Barty 6-3

The pain continued for Vondrousova to kick off the second set, with Barty overpowering her yet again to claim another early break.

It should be noted that in the 2018 Final, Sloane Stephens was also a set and a break up on Simona Halep, before the Romanian came back on won the title- This match was far from done.

Vondrousova had a huge chance to break back in the next game, pegging Barty back from 40-15 to reach break point, although Barty got herself out of trouble and cemented the break at 2-0.

In fairness though, Marketa did nail this beauty of a lob right on the baseline.

It very nearly became a double break to Barty in the next game, but credit to ‘Von’, she saved two break points in another marathon deuce game.

It wasn’t surprising that by this point in time, Ash’s level had dropped slightly, and on the flip side, Vondrousova started to come out of her shell, and was finally playing with more aggression- Indeed, 6 games into the 2nd Set, she’d hit 8 winners to 7 U/E, a marked improvement.

Vondrousova also figured out an ad lib strategy- Hit a drop shot so terrible that Barty would be dumfounded and hit an error… which did work, once.

Ultimately, Barty’s service game and the dreaded Barty Slice made sure that the Czech’s chances of a comeback were between naught and zero.

Two more service holds sent the score to 5-3 to Ash, and at this point, the battlers of Australia were all warming up, ready to converge on Ipswich for the greatest Barty Party the world had ever seen.

At 40-15 up, I thought that Von would hold serve for 4-5, and force Ash to weather the nerves and serve for the championship.

It didn’t happen- Barty, despite hitting the net cord three times during the game, managed to fight back and bring up championship point, and it would be the only one she had, beating the Czech in a baseline rally, forcing Vondrousova into one last desperate lob, which Ash smashed into the open court, and becoming the latest edition to the major winners club.

The classic Australian “What the **** just happened?” celebration.

So Ash becomes the first Aussie to win a major singles title since Sam Stosur won the 2011 US Open, the first Aussie to win a singles title at RG since Margaret Court in 1973, and the first Indigenous player to win a major since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won the 1980 Wimbledon title.

There’s something you didn’t know, but do now- Ash is from the Ngarigo Indigenous people!

And summing up the contempt that we as a country now hold Margaret Court in, when that factoid was mentioned in the courtside interview, Ash immediately changed the subject to Sammy, and how she’d helped pave the way for the success of Saturday with a decade’s worth of runs at Roland Garros.

To see the reactions of various people connected to Ash was gold- Her old doubles partner and good friend Casey Dellacqua was bordering on bursting into joyful tears on the Fox Sports coverage, and throw in the Rockhampton Rocket himself, Rod Laver, who was in Paris for most of the week to mark 50 years since he won the ’69 title, and after speaking highly of Ash this week in a press conference, he warmly embraced the latest Banana Bender to win a major title.

Barty, Stosur, Pat Rafter, Laver, Roy Emerson- All of them major winners, and all of them Queenslanders!

What on earth goes on up in the Sunshine State…


Dylan Alcott wins the Quad Wheelchair Singles Title

Def. David Wagner (USA) 6-2 4-6 6-2

I couldn’t not mention our most dominant male tennis player racking up another major title!

With the Footy Show getting the arse, Dylan Alcott has plenty of time to continue his dominance of Men’s Wheelchair Tennis, and he made history yet again, becoming the inaugural Men’s Quad Singles CHAMPION at Roland Garros, yet again defeating his great rival, American World No.2 David Wagner.

Unlike the Australian Open Final earlier this year, Wagner managed to take Alcott to a deciding third set, but once again, as if history repeated itself, our own World No.1 overcame a pair of final set breaks from Wagner and powered home, winning the final 5 games of the match to win 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

It was Dylan’s eighth major win, seven of which have come at the expense of Wagner.

50 years after Rocket Rod completed his second Grand Slam, our own Dylan will now venture to Wimbledon next month for the inaugural Quad Wheelchair tournament, with the tempting chance to join Rocket in a legendary club on the line.


FINALE

What an epic fortnight, capping off the comeback journey of a promising young junior, who willingly exchanged her racquet for the willow, and then came back and rose from No.623 to deliver Australian tennis an unthinkable major win, on the most unlikely of surfaces.

Ash is now World Number Two, the highest ranked Australian woman since Goolagong Cawley held the same ranking back in 1976, and Ash is now a mere 136 points off No.1 Naomi Osaka, as we now move on to the grass court season… Arguably Ash’s best surface.

She could seriously be World Number One by Wimbledon next month.

It’s batshit crazy to think about, but it’s real.

It’s very, very real.


THIS IS NOW THE GREATEST PHOTO OF THE PAST 50 YEARS OF AUSTRALIAN TENNIS

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