Not many people would have predicted it at the start, but it was Australia’s Ashleigh Barty who was the ‘Queen of Clay’ this year, with the eighth seed beating unseeded Marketa Vondrousova in the final to win her first Grand Slam singles title at the French Open.
However, though there is so much focus on the winner, and deservedly so, there are several talking points that emerged in the women’s draw in the fortnight of action that took place. This piece addresses five of the key ones.
Tennis is so often about who can keep calm and composed when it mattered, and that proved to be the case on Saturday afternoon. Whilst Vondrousova was evidently nervous early on, Barty was calm and collected throughout, ultimately dropping just four games in a dominant final performance.
Barty now finds herself second in the rankings, just 136 points off Naomi Osaka, and is now first on the WTA Race for the season. Whilst her success, which features a maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal at her home slam earlier this year and victory at the Miami, is special, it is made even more so when we remember she only returned to the sport three years ago following a hiatus due to its mental demands.
Her life and career have made her a universally popular winner here, and considering how she always handles herself, it seems that she will not crack under the pressure. Having mastered clay, which was previously seen as her weakest surface, there is much belief that Barty will be the winner of several more slams in the future, perhaps even at her home tournament in Melbourne
Barty herself is not at all old, aged just 23, but was actually older than both her semifinal and final opponents, something that surely bodes well for the future of the WTA Tour.
Ultimately the runner-up, Vondrousova did not produce her best tennis in the final, but the 19-year-old certainly has so much to be proud of. The Czech did not drop a set until the final, and her run means she will has not only broken the top twenty, but will be full of confidence after such a strong start to 2019.
Even younger than Vondrousova is Amanda Anisimova, who does not turn 18 until late August. The young American impressed as she reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, though did even better here, reaching the last four. Most notably, Anisimova dispatched defending champion Simona Halep with ease in the last eight, and she showed several signs of someone who may be a real force over the next 15 years or so.
Vondrousova and Anisimova weren’t the only young stars to make an impact. Reigning junior Wimbledon champion Iga Swiatek reached the second week of a slam for the first time, former junior champion Anastasia Potopova downed Angelique Kerber, whilst the youngest winner of a first round match was 16-year-old wildcard Diane Parry. The tour certainly looks in a good place for the future.
Field Remains Tight
Though this major was perceived to be as wide open as some in recent years, it was still tough to call, and the depth within the WTA was certainly shown.
The obvious example to look at was the final, between eighth seed Barty and unseeded Vondrousova. Very few would have predicted either of the two reaching the final, though with the two both having strong seasons so far, it was actually not too much of a surprise as the draw progressed.
Barty was in fact the highest seed left at the last four stage, with unseeded Anisimova and 26th seed Johanna Konta completing the semifinal line-up. Both had also had good patches of form in 2019, showing how competitive the tournament was from the very start.
Only three of the top eight seeds ultimately made the last eight (Barty, Halep, and seventh seed Sloane Stephens) yet the last eight line up, and the fourth round line-up, was very strong overall, showing just how tight things are on tour right now.
Disappointment for Big Names
Though things are very tight on tour right now, there will certainly be many big names on the tour who will be disappointed with how things panned out at Roland Garros this year.
Perhaps no one will be more disappointed than sixth seed Petra Kvitova and fourth seed Kiki Bertens. Many people predicted that the final would be contested between these women, yet Kvitova was forced to withdraw with an arm injury, whilst Bertens retired in her second round match due to illness. It was unfortunately a missed opportunity for both.
Second seed Karolina Pliskova will also be disappointed, winning in Rome just a week before the tournament before losing surprisingly easily to Petra Martic in the third round, whilst there were also third round losses for world number one Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina. Meanwhile, reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber lost in the first round, hindered by injury trouble. It certainly proved to be a tough tournament for many who were considered contenders prior to the tournament.
Strong Clay Success Pays Off....For Some
Clay is a notoriously tricky surface for many to adapt to, though some proved to be extremely skilled at it throughout the clay season.
The biggest surprise of the clay court season was arguably Johanna Konta. The Brit had never won a French Open match prior to this year, though reached finals on the surface in Rabat and Rome, before backing those results up by reaching her third Grand Slam semifinal at the tournament. She was, surprisingly, one of the best clay court performers of the season.
Konta's conqueror in the semifinal, Vondrousova, was also proving comfortable on the surface prior to Paris, having reached the final in Istanbul, and beating Simona Halep in Rome. Furthermore, Petra Martic won her first career title by beating Vondrousova in the Istanbul final, and ultimately picked up more clay court wins this season than any other women as she reached a first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Though perhaps less obvious, there were also good signs for Barty coming in, reaching the fourth round in Rome and the last eight in Madrid, though there were naturally some disappointing results in the French Open. Yulia Putintseva and Dayana Yastremska both lost in the first round in Paris despite winning titles in the proceeding weeks, whilst both Kiki Bertens and Karolina Pliskova both failed to reach the second week despite their successes in Madrid and Rome respectively; Bertens’ exit was due to illness, however. There was also disappointment for Anett Kontaveit, Stuttgart runner-up and potential dark horse, who crushed out in round one.
Though one Grand Slam has just taking place, it is just three weeks until Grand Slam tennis returns at Wimbledon. It will be incredibly exciting to see what stories emerge there.