Ashleigh Barty says her favorite surface in tennis is grass.
She might have to change that after beating Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova 6-1 6-3 to become the first Australian to win the clay-court French Open since Margaret Court in 1973.
“I played the perfect match today,” Barty told the crowd.
“I think she just gave me a lesson today,” the 19-year-old said.
It was a feat that almost never was, since Barty quit tennis five years ago — weighed down by expectations following a stellar junior career — and even played professional cricket before returning in 2016.
“I don’t even know if I’d be sitting here talking to you if I was playing tennis if I didn’t step away,” she said.
“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.”
The well liked 23-year-old with the big forehand and varied repertoire has been on an upward trajectory since and will rise six spots to No. 2 in the world behind another young star, 21-year-old Naomi Osaka, when Monday’s new rankings are released.
Such is Barty’s ability that, after winning junior Wimbledon aged 15, she has become a grand slam champion in both singles and doubles.
Barty likes to use the term “cheapies” to describe unforced errors and there weren’t many that came off her racket against Vondrousova in what was the most lopsided women’s final at Roland Garros — in games — since Justine Henin downed Ana Ivanovic 6-1 6-2 in 2007.
Perhaps it was due, since the last six finals didn’t lack drama.
Henin possessed a wonderful, versatile backhand slice that can help in defensive positions, neutralize opponents and coax those cheapies.
And with Vondrousova on the stretch in the second set against Barty, one crosscourt slice from well beyond the baseline flummoxed the left-hander for a clean winner.
It was Barty’s start that was likely key to the encounter. This after the final was delayed by around one-and-a-half hours because the men’s semifinal between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem had to be completed — with yet another rain interruption.
It was the first grand slam final for both Barty — who had never previously advanced past the second round in Paris — and Vondrousova. But the Australian is more established than her foe and, thus, accustomed to playing on bigger stages.
In March, for example, Barty won one of the biggest tournaments outside the grand slams, the Miami Open. Vondrousova, meanwhile, had never played on the main Philippe Chatrier stadium.
That extra experience felt pivotal.
Barty raced to a quick 4-0 advantage, a day after leading another teen, Amanda Anisimova, 5-0 in the semifinals.
The American rallied, though, to take a set and break advantage, which meant Barty had to come back herself to make the finale.
She didn’t make the same mistake twice.
“Yesterday was an absolute roller coaster,” said Barty. “There’s no way about it. I think I played some really good tennis and some pretty awful tennis.
“Then today I just kept saying to myself, ‘I may never get this opportunity ever again,’ so try and grab it with both hands.”
Barty hit 27 winners to 26 unforced errors in the late afternoon sunshine that countered that rain earlier in the day. The winds that so drastically affected the men’s semifinals Friday were still something for Barty and Vondrousova to contend with, but not nearly as drastic.
Vondrousova, like Barty, possesses super touch. But the drop shot that she enjoys rarely worked, unlike in her previous rounds.
Vondrousova was able to recover from ominous positions in her previous two matches against Johanna Konta and Petra Martic — down 5-3 in the first set and saving set points — yet Barty wasn’t as generous.
First set lost
Vondrousova hadn’t lost a set prior to the final, so Barty winning the opener and in quick time, must have been a blow.
Had the left-hander won, Vondrousova would have become the first teen to win a major since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 US Open and the first at Roland Garros since Iva Majoli in 1997.
“I think I’m proud of myself at everything, because I’m just 19 and I won six tough matches,” said Vondrousova, whose parents were in attendance. “It was an amazing two weeks for me.
Barty made history with her title on the surface she had limited experience on.
“I said to my team at the start of the year I was just worried about falling over,” said Barty. “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.”
And guess what grand slam is up next? Wimbledon. On grass.