French Open Recap: Nadal Wins 12th French, Barty Wins First Grand Slam
While chalk ruled the men’s draw at Roland-Garros, teenage sensations became the story in the women’s draw at the 2019 French Open.
By Jane Voigt
Updated: June 9, 2019 • 4:00 PM ET
Rafa Nadal is the undisputed King of Clay.
This year’s French Open had the usual Grand Slam surprises, plus stunning, unforeseen outcomes. Springtime in Paris showcased a summer’s sun with hot temperatures, followed by chilly rain and blistering winds that halted play because players couldn’t see. Rafael Nadal won his 12th title (it’s his tournament after-all), while Ashleigh Barty won her first Grand Slam and became the ninth different woman to win a major in the last 10 tournaments.
Yet, what captured the most attention was the rise of teenagers. Amanda Anisimova, the 17-year-old American, and Marketa Vondrousova, the 19-year-old Czech Republic native, advanced deep into the second week without dropping a single set, showing off jaw-dropping tennis and minds as tough as nails.
Anisimova sent defending champion Simona Halep home in the quarterfinals, while Vondrousova subdued England’s currently keen Johanna Konta in the semifinals to advance to her inaugural Grand Slam final. Anisimova was on the verge of joining Vondrousova in the final, coming from 0-5 and 15-40 down in the first set against Barty to lose in three. No mind, this was only the American’s fourth major; and given her rise in the rankings, Anisimova should be seeded at Wimbledon in three weeks. Barty subdued the Czech teen 6-1, 6-3 in the final.
“In the last 10-15 years, we haven’t seen these teens come up,” Lindsay Davenport said, calling the match between Anisimova and Halep on Tennis Channel. “Her work ethic, her ability to process information, brings to mind Martina Hingis and Venus and Serena Williams, teen stars in the mid- to late-1990s.”
Teen sensations weren’t the headliners in men’s singles competition. Match results there progressed as expected — Nadal beat Dominic Thiem in the final, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 — some called them nothing less than boring. The women, though, with their teenage phenoms, allured fans and pundits alike because of erratic outcomes.
Serena Williams is no longer a hands-down favorite; in fact, she lost to 20-year-old American Sofia Kenin before week two, the time when champions bear down. Naomi Osaka, the top seed and No. 1 player in the world, couldn’t find her footing on the slippery surface and was bounced in the third round. Karolina Pliskova, the second seed, came to Paris with the Rome title tucked in her court bag, but also lost in the third round.
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Dominic Thiem reached his second French Open final this year.
Nothing came close to that decimation from the men. In fact, the top four seeds eased their way to the semifinals: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Nadal and Thiem. That outcome spotlighted the fact that over the last 62 majors, one of these men, Djokovic, Nadal, or Federer, have advanced to a semifinal. Additionally, one of them have gone on to win with an astonishing 52 titles divided between them over all four Grand Slams since 2004.
Compare that to women’s singles. Barty was seeded No. 8 and Marketa Vondrousova was unseeded.
The men’s march through the rounds in Paris was partially attributable to the tournament draw and Nadal. This year, like many before, the luck-of-the-draw gods were in his favor, because the only possible challenge in his section was Kei Nishikori, and that was a far, far cry from a “real challenge.”
The Japanese seventh seed had never beaten Nadal, having come close in Madrid a few years back, only to retire in that final with an injury before capping off a probable victory. But in Paris this year, Nishikori had played two rounds of five-set matches. He arrived at the quarterfinals bone-tired, which is never a good position to be in when facing the King of Clay. Nadal beat Nishikori 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 to set up the tournament’s first block-buster against Federer, who hadn’t played the French Open since 2015.
Needless to say, things didn’t go well for the 20-time Grand Slam champion, Federer. The 50 mph wind gusts made the day’s match challenging for both men. But, in the end, Federer’s dream to beat Nadal at this major went unfulfilled, leaving him with zero wins in their six meetings in Paris and owning only one title there from 2009. He lost 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
“You get to a point where you’re just happy to make shots and not look ridiculous,” Federer said via The New York Times.
Federer added, “He [Nadal] has incredible abilities on clay. I knew that ahead of time. I don’t look like I fight, but I do, and I tried to believe in it. I tried to turn the match around until the end. But the longer the match went on, the better he seemed to feel in the wind.”
Call the men’s game the golden years tennis. Call it boring. Or, call it good for the sport. The facts are clear. None of the up-coming stars in men’s tennis, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and even, as of Sunday, two-time runner-up Dominic Thiem, can breach the wall constructed by those three players: Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. Furthermore, these guys are over 30 with Federer turning 38 in August. That means the kids can’t beat the old folks, which is a touch simplistic, yet the point is sincere.
To win a major and overthrow the monarchs will take serendipity, or a genuine shove by not only an outstanding player but a mental giant, as well. The consistency of strokes differs little between the top 100. It’s the mind and experience that create the dividing line.
Ashleigh Barty completed a championship run at the 2019 French Open.
Now, if you want variety and surprises, stick with the women, because to see that on the men’s side is going to take some time, given tennis’ history. And speaking of atypical, champion Ash Barty left tennis in 2014 to take a break from the sport she has played since being a prodigy at age 13, her first appearance in Paris as a junior.
Barty, however, didn’t leave sports altogether. Instead, she hung up her tennis racquet for a cricket bat with the Brisbane Heat. In competition there, she realized tennis was her heart’s love, so she returned to the sport in 2016 with a ranking of 683 in the world.
Tomorrow, Barty will be ranked No. 2 in the world.