FROM PARIS TO PERTH IT’S A BARTY PARTY

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Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Paris

Bill Simons

The edict from the Ethics Commission of the International Tennis Writers Association was clear. A year-long study had revealed that 93.7% of all the articles on Ash Barty used the phrase Barty Party. This had to stop. Member writers were strictly banned from using those words.

Whoa! That was a non-starter for me. I knew I couldn’t comply, and as I resigned my association membership, I muttered, “What a bunch of Barty poopers!”

Today Barty swept to a seamless 6-1, 6-3 victory in just 70 minutes, to become the first Aussie to win here since Margaret Court in 1973, the first Aussie of indigenous heritage to win a Slam since Evonne Goolagong in 1980 and the first Ash to win a Slam since Arthur Ashe in 1975.

It’s been a journey. As a 15-year-old, she won the Wimbledon juniors, but suffered mightily from the soul-deadening grind of the tour. She was depressed and felt the heat. So she stepped away and joined the Heat – that would be the Brisbane Heat pro cricket team.

An Aussie’s Aussie, Ash is a sports-crazy jock – humble and never ahead of herself. Cricket was a “got-to-try-it” adventure, but tennis was her destiny.

As she sought her way, Australian authorities backed their beloved Ipswich, Queensland, battler. “We embraced her, put our arms around her, in good times and bad,” said Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley. Her coach Craig Tyzzer added, “She’s got real Aussie spirit. It’s do-or-die. You go out there and do your best no matter what. You look your opponent in the eye and shake hands at the end of the day. She has a lot of Aussie grit and determination.”

You think? Barty said she needed her time away from tennis just to be a normal person. Then, three years ago, she returned to the circuit as No. 623. She climbed the rankings and reached three Slam doubles finals. Then, this year, the 23-year-old broke out. She got to the Aussie Open quarters, single-handedly dismantled America’s Fed Cup team, and won both the Miami Open singles and the Italian Open doubles with Vika Azarenka.

Like Naomi Osaka, her emergence caught our imagination. After all, Ash is not tall. She’s not lean. Yes, she has weapons, but they don’t scream. Her flash is modest. The WTA’s anti-diva is down to earth. Just after the greatest moment of her life, when she blasted an overhead to score her first Slam, she asked that perennial question, “What the f–k just happened?”

What happened is that Barty, who has won more matches than anyone else this year and will be No. 2, used her full arsenal of strokes and her considerable mental strengths. Never mind that she doesn’t fancy tennis on dirt. From a nation with only 200 clay courts, she joked, “I have a love-hate relationship with the surface…At the start of the year I was just worried about falling over. And I…got to the end of the clay court season and I did not fall over once.”

In seven previous years in Paris, she’d won just two matches. But for the past two weeks she has been superb. Yesterday Barty showed her grit when she came back from a set and a break down against the zoning American teen Amanda Anisimova. Today she unleashed her slice backhand. Her second serve was nasty. While not blazing fast, she moved with a fleet ease. Her volleys bite. Today, she out drop-shotted a foe known for her droppers.

Her intent is also a weapon. Her fellow Queenslander Rod Laver stated, “Ash has got a strong will…She knew what she wanted. Her forehand is always strong, so she controls the patterns.”

Today, Marketa Vondrousova was not zoning. The appealing 19-year-old Czech comes from a little town. For much of the tourney she offered little smiles and little drops shots, as she swept to the finals without dropping a set. But today she was a little overwhelmed. Yes, she’s in the storied tradition of Czech lefties – Martina Navratilova, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova, who retired last week. But the kid, who jokes in the press room and tries not to stress, hardly knows the big stage. Before today, she’d never set foot on Stade Philippe Chatrier.

The youngest French Open finalist in 12 years has a bright future. But today she looked like the No. 38 player in the world. Her footwork was problematic. She netted the simplest of forehand volleys; her overheads found the alleys. She lost six of the first seven points. In seven minutes she was down 3-0. She tried to gain a foothold, but admitted she had been schooled. She never really tested her confident foe.

“I played a perfect match,” the beaming Barty told the adoring Paris crowd. Physically, Barty brings to mind the 5’6” Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario. She befriended the singular Steffi Graf at a Vegas baseball game when she was 14 and she has an appreciative glint in her eye when she speaks of her fellow indigenous Australian, Evonne Goolagong. But Barty clearly loves her individuality and insists that her victory is simply a culmination of a singular journey.  

She reflected: “It’s about creating your own path, creating your own journey, and embracing it. There’s no formula…I tried to build a unique style, my own style…Any time I can play my brand of tennis, I know I can match it against the best in the world.”

No kidding. Today, in the most one-sided French final since 2007, Ash said she played “a perfect match.” Over two weeks, she not only achieved her goal of not falling over, she lifted the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen and she lifted hearts. And so tennis lovers from Paris to Perth today popped their corks and shouted loud – “Let the Barty Party begin!”

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