The way grand slam champions celebrate their maiden success says much about their true character: Roger Federer cried, Novak Djokovic roared and Rafael Nadal fell flat on his back. Emotion, justification and sheer relief and joy.
But when Ash Barty won the French Open yesterday, swatting aside Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 6-3 in just 70 minutes, she was a picture of calm and control.
She used a very Anglo-Saxon expletive as match point landed then turned, arms aloft, to salute her box and sank on her haunches for a brief moment of contemplation. And that was that. A wave to the crowd, a hug for her coach, Craig Tyzzer, who came down to the court to meet her (rather than the winner’s customary, chaotic scramble through the crowd up to the players’ box) and it was time for the presentation ceremony. Job done.
Barty had just become the first Australian since Margaret Court in 1973 to win at Roland Garros and the first to appear in the final since Sam Stosur nine years ago.
The victory had been a lifetime in the dreaming but only three years in the planning. The little kid who grew up in Ipswich, Queensland, playing tennis and imagining herself following in the footsteps of the great Australian champions soon showed herself to be a potential winner of the future. But the business of growing up in public, of dealing with a nation’s hopes and expectations was almost the end of her: she did not know whether she wanted to live her life in the goldfish bowl of an individual sport. So she just stopped after the US Open in 2014.
For almost two years, Barty took herself off to play cricket and decide what it was she really wanted to do with her career. When, at last, she came back in June 2016, she set out on the road to the Roland Garros final. And when she got there, she was cool (on the outside, at least), she was resilient and she was far, far too good for anyone who stood in her path.
“It’s unbelievable, I’m a little bit speechless,” she said as her victory started to sink in. “It’s incredible; I played the perfect match today. I’m so proud of myself and my team. It’s just been a crazy two weeks.”
The Barty who hoisted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen above her head yesterday knew what she wanted thanks to those couple of years away, she knew how to get it and she had worked herself narrow to claim it.
“For me, it was a no-brainer for me to take a break,” she said. “I think it was just I knew in myself that’s what I needed. If I was going to play tennis, if I wasn’t going to play tennis, for me that didn’t matter. I just needed to take a break and mentally refresh and sort of restart.
“But I just knew I needed to step back. It was a really, really good 18 months of my life. I was able to relax and just enjoy. I wasn’t training at all. I was just living life like a normal 18, 19-year-old girl would. It was really nice for me just to be home for an extended period.”
Yesterday’s final was not exactly a show-stopper – Barty sped to a 4-0 lead, was hauled back briefly by her left-handed Czech rival, but nothing and no one was going to stop her. She had the early lead in both sets and poor Vondrousova did not have the wherewithal to stop the rout.
But that is how Barty got to the final in the first place. When the likes of Sophia Kenin and Amanda Anisimova managed to prise a set from her, the new world No.2 simply assessed the situation, worked out what was required and set about putting things right. It sounds easy but problem solving in the middle of a major match takes a particular sort of psyche, the sort of psyche the more mature, more settled post-break Barty possesses.
“I feel like it’s been the most amazing journey that me and my team have been on the last three years,” the new champion said, “and I feel like this is just the start for us.”