Ash Barty knew she needed a break from tennis, from the pressure and expectations, from the week-in, week-out grind.

So she stepped away in 2014 and wound up trying cricket, joining a professional team in Australia.

After almost two years away, Barty was pulled back to the tour.

Good choice. Now she's a grand slam champion.


Taking control right from the start of the French Open final and never really letting go, the No 8-seeded Barty capped a quick-as-can-be rise in her return to the sport by beating unseeded 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-3 yesterday for her first major championship.

"I never closed any doors, saying, 'I'm never playing tennis again'. I needed time to step away, to live a normal life because this tennis life certainly isn't normal. I needed time to grow as a person, to mature," Barty said.

And as for why she came back three years ago?

"I missed the competition. I missed the one-on-one battle, the ebbs and flows, the emotions you get from winning and losing matches," said Barty, who will jump to a career-best No 2 in the rankings today behind Naomi Osaka.

"They are so unique and you can only get them when you're playing and when you put yourself out on the line and become vulnerable and try and do things no one thinks of."

That last part is an apt description of how she approaches each point, looking for just the right angle or speed, understanding where an opponent might be most vulnerable at any given moment. After using her slice backhand, topspin forehand and kick serve to do just that to Vondrousova, she called it a "kind of 'Ash Barty brand' of tennis."

Vondrousova's take?

"She's mixing things up. And she has a huge serve," Vondrousova said. "So it's all very tough to play against."


Barty raced to a 4-0 lead and then held on, showing she learned her lesson after blowing a 5-0 edge in the opening set of her quarter-final victory a day earlier against another unseeded teenager, 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova.

"An absolute roller-coaster," Barty called it.

Her coach, Craig Tyzzer, said the two of them huddled with Ben Crowe, who helps Barty with the mental side of things, and they had a "really good discussion about it" to make sure she'd avoid that sort of trouble in the final.

Neither 23-year-old Barty nor Vondrousova had ever played in a grand slam final before. Neither had even been in a major semifinal until this week, either. But it was only Vondrousova who seemed jittery at the outset; she was playing at Court Philippe Chatrier for the first time.

Barty became the first Australian to win the trophy at Roland Garros since Margaret Court in 1973.

"I played the perfect match," Barty said.


Pretty close to it, particularly at the beginning. By the end, Barty compiled a 27-10 edge in winners. It took all of 70 minutes to wrap things up.

"She gave me a lesson," said Vondrousova, ranked 38th. "I didn't really feel good because she didn't let me play my game."

The women's final started about 90 minutes later than scheduled because it followed the resumption of Dominic Thiem's 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 victory over No 1 seed Novak Djokovic in the men's semifinals, a match suspended on Friday evening because of rain.

Thiem faced 11-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal overnight in a rematch of last year's final.

- AP