French Open title grants Barty ultimate vindication
- Having struggled with the rigours of professional tennis Ashleigh Barty took a break from the sport - now she is the French Open champion.
On June 6, 2016 Ashleigh Barty reappeared on the WTA Tour rankings at number 623. Three years and two days later she became the French Open champion.
Barty defeated 19-year-old Czech Marketa Vondrousova 6-1 6-3 on Court Philippe-Chatrier to claim her maiden grand slam singles title and become the first Australian to triumph at Roland Garros since Margaret Court in 1973.
The Queenslander will consequently move up to second when the new rankings are released on Monday, but there was a time when her future in tennis looked uncertain.
Having started playing at age five and excelled in the junior ranks – she was crowned girls' singles champion at Wimbledon in 2011 – and as a Tour-level doubles player, Barty struggled with the rigours of the professional circuit.
After suffering defeat in the first round of the 2014 US Open, an 18-year-old Barty announced she would be taking a break from the sport. Instead, she decided to take up cricket and earned a contract with the Brisbane Heat in the inaugural Women's Big Bash League.
"It's been great in cricket to come into a team environment because it's the first time I've ever experienced it and I'm loving every moment," Barty said at the time.
"It was too much too quickly for me as I've been travelling from quite a young age. I wanted to experience life as a normal teenaged girl and have some normal experiences."
Come and get involved this Saturday at the Gabba with us Heat girls If you can't make it catch us LIVE on One! pic.twitter.com/xRks6mOR7F— Ash Barty (@ashbar96) December 14, 2015
But following an almost two-year hiatus, the Australian returned to tennis.
Asked following her first-round win over Jessica Pegula at Roland Garros what the best decision she had made was, Barty simply replied: "Coming back."
She will undoubtedly be even more convinced of that following her triumph over talented left-hander Vondrousova on Saturday.
Barty came out firing and surged into a 4-0 lead but then a forehand found the net to give one break back to Vondrousova, a player who grew up on clay but showed plenty of nerves of her first appearance on Chatrier.
Memories of surrendering a 5-0 advantage to another teenager Amanda Anisimova to lose the first set of her semi-final may have come flooding back, but there was no such capitulation this time from the fearless 23-year-old and a stunning forehand down the line sealed the first set.
Barty broke again at the start of the second and that proved the decisive blow, with an overhead smash by the net getting the job done in just 70 minutes.
Speaking about her journey after defeating Madison Keys in the quarter-finals, Barty said: "I have grown as a person and obviously as a player, as well. But I have had some heart-breaking moments. I've had some amazing moments. But all in all, I have enjoyed every single minute.
"I think that's been the biggest thing, that I haven't had one ounce of regret. I felt like when I came back, it was my decision, we did it my way and it's paying dividends."
By getting her hands on La Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen, Barty ensured her decision to step away from the sport and give herself the time she needed for her own wellbeing received the ultimate vindication.