The summer Ashleigh Barty spent realising her modest cricket limitations keeps paying hefty dividends for the world No.1 tennis star.
With two months of tennis left on the women’s calendar, there is still plenty to play for.
However, the four top prizes have been handed out for 2019. What did we learn from the Grand Slam year, and what were the headlines?
Variety is the spice of life
For the third year in succession, the four majors were won by different women. No one has been able to win two or more titles in a calendar year since Angelique Kerber in 2016.
This year our winners were Naomi Osaka in Melbourne, who backed up her US Open win from the year before. Australia’s own Ash Barty took out the French Open to claim her maiden Slam, Simona Halep won her first Wimbledon and second Grand Slam, while just last week we had the 19-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu stun the tennis world to claim her first major.
As a tennis fan, I love the fact the women’s game is quite wide open when it comes to the majors. While I’ll stop short of saying it’s completely unpredictable, it is refreshing to think that there are a dozen or so women capable of winning the trophy.
I think the reason for this has a lot to do with playing best of three sets. There is no difference between a regular tournament and a Grand Slam, meaning all players are used to the same match conditions throughout the year.
For the men, to jump from a two-hour match to potentially a four or five-hour match, can have a much more profound impact on those players who aren’t used to Grand Slam action. Let me also add I do not want to see the men play best of three, and I would be quite okay with women playing best of five…but that’s a whole different article.
The big storylines
In Australia, Naomi Osaka became the world number one player overtaking Simona Halep after defeating Petra Kvitova in a classic three-set final. At the start of the tournament, there were 11 women with the possibility of taking the world number one ranking, demonstrating just how close the rankings are.
The surprise packet of the tournament was Danielle Collins, who had previously never won a match at a major but managed to navigate her way through to the semi-finals before bowing out to Kvitova.
At the French Open, Ashleigh Barty became the first Australian (male or female), to take out the title since Margaret Court in 1973. Interestingly, Barty only had to face one seeded player, the 14th seed Madison Keys in the quarter-finals, on her way to becoming champion.
This led to some saying it was a rather soft French Open win. On paper, that may be so, but as we’ve seen, women’s tennis is so even, and there are rarely easy matches as players get deep into the tournament.
Amanda Anisimova became the youngest semi-finalist in 13 years and at the age of just 17 defeated defending champion Simona Halep in the quarter-finals before pushing Barty all the way in the semis.
In a rare occurrence, none of the semi-finalists had ever reached a Grand Slam final, breathing some fresh air into the women’s game that is sorely missed on the men’s side.
Heading into Wimbledon, Ash Barty had taken over as the number one ranked player in the world, and although she would retain that status after the tournament, a fourth-round loss to Alison Riske was a somewhat disappointing exit.
However, she wasn’t the only seed to fall early, with 13 of the 32 seeded players losing in the opening two rounds.
But there were two overriding stories once the last ball had been hit on the grass courts at SW17. The first major talking point was Simona Halep’s demolition of Serena Williams in the final. Halep became the first Romanian player to win a singles title (senior), and the fashion in which she disposed of Serena was breathtaking.
Throughout the tournament, Halep lost only one set, but in the final, she stepped up another notch. To defeat the greatest player of all time in under an hour, conceding only three unforced errors, was freakishly good and clearly the highlight of the fortnight.
The second major media sensation came in the form of a 15-year-old girl from the US, Coco Gauff. Gauff battled through qualifying to become the youngest qualifier in history, before going on a tear, defeating Venus Williams (the oldest player in the draw) in the first round, then winning her second and third-round matches.
It was Simona Halep who eventually put an end to the Coco circus in the fourth round.
Coco then went on to do more damage at the US Open, making the third round before being outclassed by Naomi Osaka. Expect big things from Coco, but I personally hope she doesn’t play too much over the next couple of years. There will be plenty of time for her.
Probably the biggest story of the year was left to the final match of the final major of the year at Flushing Meadows in New York.
Bianca Andreescu, the 19-year-old Canadian, made history on so many levels.
She was the first Canadian tennis player to win a Grand Slam. Andreescu was the first woman to win the US Open on her first attempt, the youngest in 15 years to win a Grand Slam, and the first player born this century to take out a major title.
Bianca dominated Serena in the final, and it wasn’t until Serena was essentially walking to the locker room that she starting swinging from the hip and began to cause a few nervous moments in the Andreescu camp (although you wouldn’t know from it looking at her mum).
In the end, the 19-year-old’s composure was at a level that many more experienced players may not have been able to control.
It was a stunning run from the young prodigy, who has leapt up into the top five in the world on the back of an amazing year.
We also have to acknowledge Serena’s appearance in the final. Although she may have lost her last four finals, by appearing at the US Open final she has achieved another record – the longest amount of time between a first, and most recent Grand Slam final appearance.
Serena’s first was last century in the 1999 US Open. Just think, if she manages to win a major next year, she will have won at least one Slam in the last four decades. Phenomenal.
The 2019 women’s Grand Slam season has been somewhat the complete opposite of the men, as far as the unexpected winners, the ‘changing of the guard’ and the unpredictability. Personally, I find it extremely interesting and entertaining, and it’s hard to see how 2020 won’t continue in the same vein.
Bring on the Australian Open.