Barty party: Australian cruises to 1st Grand Slam title
Thiem outlasts Djokovic in men's semi to set up title rematch vs. Nadal
Ash Barty decided to take a break from tennis in 2014 to play cricket. After almost two years away, the Australian returned to the tour, and that career choice paid off in a big way Saturday with her first Grand Slam title.
The No. 8-seeded Barty took control right at the start of the French Open final and never really let go, beating unseeded 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-3.
"I played the perfect match today," Barty said.
Pretty close to it, particularly at the start.
WATCH | Barty wins her 1st Grand Slam:
She raced to a 4-0 lead and then held on, showing that she learned her lesson after blowing a 5-0 edge in the opening set of her quarterfinal victory a day earlier over another unseeded teenager, 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova.
Barty wound up with a 27-10 edge in winners against a far shakier Vondrousova and became the first Australian to win the trophy at Roland Garros since Margaret Court in 1973.
"You gave me a lesson today," Vondrousova said to Barty during the trophy ceremony at Court Philippe Chatrier.
Neither Barty, 23, nor Vondrousova had ever played in a Grand Slam final before. Neither had even been in a major semifinal until this week, either.
Told during an on-court interview that she hadn't seemed jittery, Barty replied: "Oh, I was. Very nervous."
Barty hadn't even been past the fourth round in her first 17 Slam appearances before getting to the quarter-finals in front of a supportive home crowd at the Australian Open in January.
But she truly looked the part Saturday, with her formidable sliced backhand creating openings that she took advantage of with her topspin forehand, which produced 11 of her winners.
After the U.S. Open five years ago, Barty walked away from professional tennis. She had been a successful junior, winning the 2011 Wimbledon girls' title, and played in three doubles finals by then, too.
But her time in cricket gave her a chance to reconsider how she wanted to approach her other sport, and she returned to the WTA in 2016.
"It's been a magical two weeks," Barty said.
Addressing her coach and others in her guest box Saturday, Barty said: "Thank you guys for sticking with me. It's been the most amazing journey we've been on the last three years. And I feel like it's just the start. Let's go celebrate tonight."
Thiem overcomes Djokovic
Novak Djokovic's 26-match Grand Slam winning streak ended with a dramatic 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 loss Saturday to Dominic Thiem in a rain-interrupted semifinal that spanned more than four hours over two days.
Thiem wasted two match points with quick unforced errors when serving for the victory at 5-3 in the fifth, but he made his third chance count, smacking a forehand winner to break Djokovic in the last game.
"It's never easy to go on, go off, put the system on 100 per cent and go down to zero per cent in the locker," Thiem said. "But if you win, everything is good."
WATCH | Thiem outlasts Djokovic over 2 days to reach final:
The top-ranked Djokovic had trouble with Thiem, to be sure, but also with the weather, with the chair umpire and with his odd propensity for heading to the net much more often than usual, including some serve-and-volleying that often failed.
He was stopped two victories short of collecting his fourth consecutive major championship, a run that began on the grass at Wimbledon last July, then continued on the hard courts of the U.S. Open and Australian Open.
Instead, it is Thiem, an Austrian ranked No. 4, who now gets a chance to win his first Grand Slam trophy on the red clay of Roland Garros.
Ready for rematch
Thiem will face 11-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal on Sunday in a rematch of last year's final. Nadal won that one, part of an 8-4 lead for the Spaniard in their head-to-head series.
"All the time, if someone reaches the finals here, it's against Rafa," Thiem said with a laugh.
It will be the fourth straight day that Thiem is in action because of postponements, whereas Nadal will be well-rested, having played his quarter-final Tuesday and his semifinal Friday, when he beat Roger Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
On Friday, Thiem had just broken Djokovic to go up a break at 3-1 in the third set when their match was suspended because of a shower. They resumed 18 1/2 hours later, in dry, breezy conditions. The wind that was so fierce Friday — spreading loose, rust-coloured clay dust from the court surface all over the place, making for something that seemed like a sandstorm — was much more manageable Saturday. It rippled players' shirts but did not cause havoc with serve tosses and shots the way it had the evening prior.
They repeatedly engaged in long and entertaining baseline exchanges that lasted 10 shots, 20 shots or more. They used speed and anticipation to track down each other's shots. They walloped the ball from all angles.
The very longest of these tended to go Djokovic's way: He won 37 of 61 points (61 per cent) of nine or more strokes.
Lack of focus fells Djokovic
Serving at 15-all while down 6-5, Djokovic was agitated by a warning from chair umpire Jaume Campistol for letting the serve clock expire and wouldn't let it go, complaining during the game and, more vociferously, at the changeover, so much so that he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The lack of focus drifted into his choices during points, too, including a mediocre volley that let Thiem deposit a backhand passing winner for a fourth set point. Yet another serve-and-volley attempt came next, and Thiem produced a low forehand return right at Djokovic's feet to end the set.
On the first point when they returned, Djokovic paused, thinking a shot by Thiem landed out. Campistol ruled it was in. Djokovic eventually took that game. But he was a point from losing when Thiem served at 5-3, 40-15. Except, Thiem just couldn't close. Couldn't do much of anything.
Dumped a backhand into the net. Pushed a backhand wide. Sent a forehand long. Slapped a backhand into the net. None should have been all that difficult.
That could have been it for him. Hard to recover from that sort of collapse, especially against someone like Djokovic.
But Thiem regrouped in time. It was Djokovic who faltered, something not seen on a Grand Slam stage since the 2018 French Open quarterfinals.