The French Open is over for another year, and while Rafael Nadal became the first person to win 12 titles at any one Major, the women’s draw saw a first-time champion for the fourth consecutive year.
After a poor start to the European clay-court season by his standards, the Spaniard rediscovered the form that has seen him master the surface over the past 15 years, defeating Novak Djokovic to win in Rome and then Dominic Thiem in the final at Roland-Garros.
The 33-year-old entered the championship match the fresher of the two, having defeated Roger Federer in his semi-final in straight sets, while Thiem was forced to contest his semi-final against Djokovic over the course of five sets and two days, due to rain delays.
But to suggest that the sufficient rest played a part in Nadal’s victory would be wrong, given how the match panned out in just over three hours of action-packed tennis.
Thiem was the first to strike when he broke in the fifth game of the opening set for a 3-2 lead, however Nadal broke right back and claimed the next three games to take the opening set 6-3.
The first 11 games of the second set passed by without a single break point, until a Nadal backhand error at the death gifted Thiem the break and the second set by the scoreline of 7-5.
By this stage, it was one-set all. It was game on.
In 11 previous championship matches in Paris, Nadal had never been taken to five sets. And this did not change when he claimed the final two sets, both by 6-1, to further etch his name into the Grand Slam record books.
Not only is it his 12th French Open title, it is also his 18th Major and sees him close to within two of the men’s all-time record – Federer’s 20.
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) June 9, 2019
— Lleyton Hewitt (@lleytonhewitt) June 9, 2019
If the Spaniard is to equal the Swiss Maestro by the end of the year, he will need to repeat what he did in 2010 when he won Wimbledon and the US Open back-to-back (on top of reclaiming his French Open crown that year after it had been lost to Robin Soderling in 2009).
To do that would require him to overcome his recent poor record on grass which, prior to last year, had seen him fall before the quarter-final stage at the All England Club five times between 2012 and 2017 inclusive (he missed the 2016 tournament due to injury).
Now, with a record of 93 wins against just two losses at Roland Garros, winning the title in 2020 would also mark his 100th match win at the tournament, so the incentive is there for next year.
As for the defeated Thiem, well, it was a case of so near, but yet again so far. However, this was a better result than last year, where he only managed to win nine games across the whole three sets.
Stretching the Spaniard to four sets across three hours will give him reason to believe that he will finally get the breakthrough he deserves.
In the women’s draw, one of the great comeback stories in tennis was completed when Ashleigh Barty claimed her first Grand Slam title, taking advantage of a draw that broke wide open.
The Ipswich native was destined for greatness when she won the junior Wimbledon title aged 15 in 2011, but found the tough going in her early years and decided to take a break from professional tennis, during which she tried her hand in cricket.
It was Casey Dellacqua, her now-retired doubles partner, who talked her into making a comeback and the now-23-year-old returned a much better player, finishing inside the top 20 at the end of the 2017 season.
She continued to make significant progress over the years, eventually reaching her first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open earlier this year before ultimately going all the way over the weekend.
The Queenslander was pitched into a tricky draw which would’ve seen her have to face the likes of Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and defending champion Simona Halep. But both Williams and Osaka fell in the third round, while Halep’s title defence was ended by Amanda Anisimova in the quarter-finals.
Anisimova (in the semi-finals) and Sofia Kenin (in the fourth round), the player who upset her ageless compatriot in the round of 32, ended up becoming the only players to take a set off Barty for the entire fortnight.
Barty’s dream nearly ended up not happening when she was down a set and a break in both the second and third sets in her match against Anisimova, who broke new ground by becoming the first player, male or female, born in the 21st century to reach the last four at a Major tournament.
However, she regained her composure to win through to her first Major final, where she displayed no signs of nerves or fear, thrashing fellow first-time Major finalist Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets.
To think that Barty ‘Bradburied’ her way to the title, given the early defeats to Williams, Osaka and Halep would be disrespectful.
The highest-ranked player she had to defeat en route to the title was 14th-ranked Madison Keys, in the quarter-finals. To put that into perspective, Keys had beaten Barty in straight sets in the first round of the 2017 French Open, when the Australian’s comeback was starting to gain traction.
With the result, Barty rises to number two in the world, marking the first time since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005 that any Australian player has been ranked as high.
The Australian is now within just 100 points of the world number one ranking, which Naomi Osaka was lucky to retain after she lost to Katerina Siniakova in the third round.
❤️ ???? champ pic.twitter.com/NYNd9Hz8HF
— victoria azarenka (@vika7) June 8, 2019
— Madison Keys (@Madison_Keys) June 8, 2019
Barty’s win also gives Australian tennis a much-needed feel-good story after the recent controversies involving Nick Kyrgios, who was defaulted at the Rome Masters and pulled out of the French Open due to illness, and Bernard Tomic, who was cleared of tanking in his first round match against American Taylor Fritz.
It was the second time he’d been involved in such a controversy against an American player at a Major, after also appearing not to give any effort against Andy Roddick at the 2012 US Open.
Barty has now headed to the United Kingdom where her bid to complete the Channel Slam (i.e. winning the French Open and Wimbledon back to back) has begun in earnest.
She has withdrawn from this week’s Nottingham Open, where she was the defending champion, instead getting some well-deserved rest after what was a demanding fortnight.
Eventually, her focus will turn to the All England Club, where she will be hoping to emulate Hewitt in 2002, when he won tennis’ holy grail at the peak of his career.