In 2017, fresh after another Wimbledon victory, Roger Federer stated that the “next (generation) hasn’t been strong enough to push all of us out really. So that has been helpful for us to stick around.”
And then there were two.
A new Grand Slam champion will be crowned this evening (AEST) when Ashleigh Barty and Marketa Vondrousova go head to head for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in the women’s final of the 2019 French Open.
It is the second time in the past three years where neither of the French Open finalists has previously won a Major title, and it will be 23-year-old Barty who will start the prohibitive favourite to land her first Major singles title, following a phenomenal comeback to the sport.
After winning the junior Wimbledon title aged 15 in 2011, the Ipswich native seemed destined for the big time, but found the tough going, prompting her to take a brief break from the sport, during which she played for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League.
Barty then launched her comeback in February 2016, weeks after the WBBL season had concluded, and initially played only lower-level tournaments as she set about gaining enough rankings points to be able to participate at the major events once gain.
2017 saw her win her first career singles title at the Malaysian Open, register her first top ten victory by way of a win over Venus Williams in Cincinnati, and finish the season ranked at a then-career high ranking of 17 in the world.
The progression continued last year, whereby she reached the fourth round in singles at the US Open and won the doubles title with Coco Vandeweghe, before going on to win the WTA Elite Trophy at the end of the year and achieving another career-high ranking of 15.
The Queenslander has continued to impress in 2019, first reaching the quarter-finals at the Australian Open (knocking out former champion Maria Sharapova en route) and winning her first Premier Mandatory title in Miami, defeating Karolina Pliskova in the final.
That result would see her crack the top ten in the WTA Rankings for the first time, and she will now leave the French Open ranked as high as second in the world if she can become the first Australian woman since Margaret Court in 1973 to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.
The 23-year-old was drawn in a tricky quarter of the draw which featured the likes of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, but suddenly saw her draw open up when both of those players suffered unexpected third round defeats against Sofia Kenin and Katerina Siniakova, respectively.
Barty won her first three matches in straight sets, including defeating Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins and 2014 semi-finalist Andrea Petkovic, but then required three to get past Kenin before she produced a phenomenal performance to oust Madison Keys in the quarter-finals.
She then faced American teen sensation Amanda Anisimova in what can only be described as one of the most dramatic Grand Slam semi-finals in recent tennis history.
Barty started the match on fire, winning the first five games, and having two set points in the sixth, before Anisimova suddenly charged back into the contest, stealing the first set in a tiebreak, and then going up 3-0 in the second set.
The Australian regained her composure, winning six games in a row to level the match and force a one-set shootout, which would prove just as dramatic.
After conceding an early break, the 23-year-old then won four games in a row to move up to 5-2, where she gained three match points, only for Anisimova to save them, then hold her service game, and force Barty to serve it out, which she would do.
Barty has become the first Australian to reach the final at Roland Garros since Samantha Stosur did so in 2010 and now has the chance to emulate what her fellow stateswoman did when she won the 2011 US Open by beating Serena Williams in the final.
Standing in Barty’s way of the ultimate glory is little-known Czech Marketa Vondrousova, who has surprised many by advancing to her first Grand Slam final in just her ninth main draw without dropping a set along the way.
Aged just 19, Vondrousova cashed in on fifth seed Angelique Kerber’s early exit by defeating her conqueror, Anastasia Potapova, in the second round for the loss of just four games.
She then knocked out four seeds in succession – Carla Suarez Navarro, Anastasija Sevastova, Petra Martic (who’d defeated Karolina Pliskova in the third round) and Johanna Konta – to become the first teenager since Maria Sharapova in 2007 to reach a Grand Slam final.
Against Konta, she had to save a set point in the first set and also had to break the Brit in the second set to force a tiebreak, which she would dominate winning by seven points to two.
And here she is, into her first Grand Slam final at the age of 19, where she will start as the underdog, being ranked 30 places lower than Ashleigh Barty.
Here is your guide to tonight’s (AEST) French Open women’s final.
Saturday, June 8, 11:00pm (AEST) (2:00pm local)
Court Philippe Chatrier
Head to head: Barty 2-0
Last meeting: Barty won 6-3, 7-5, second round, 2018 Cincinnati Open.
Ashleigh Barty’s road to the final
Round 1: defeated Jessica Pegula (USA) 6-3, 6-3
Round 2: defeated Danielle Collins (USA) 7-5, 6-1
Round 3: defeated Andrea Petkovic (GER) 6-3, 6-1
Round 4: defeated Sofia Kenin (USA) 6-3, 3-6, 6-0
Quarter-final: defeated  Madison Keys (USA) 6-3, 7-5
Semi-final: defeated Amanda Anisimova (USA) 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 6-3
Marketa Vondrousova’s road to the final
Round 1: defeated Wang Yafan (CHN) 6-4, 6-3
Round 2: defeated Anastasia Potapova (RUS) 6-4, 6-0
Round 3: defeated  Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) 6-4, 6-4
Round 4: defeated  Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) 6-2, 6-0
Quarter-final: defeated  Petra Martic (CRO) 7-6 (7-1), 7-5
Semi-final: defeated  Johanna Konta (GBR) 7-5, 7-6 (7-2)
The stats that matter
Ashleigh Barty in straight sets.