Barty survives Anisimova, into final

 - Kate Battersby

Australian No.8 seed prevails in a compelling semi on Lenglen to reach her first major final.

Ashleigh Barty© Cedric Lecocq / FFT

Come the day when tennis historians seek a match to define the slings and arrows of outrageous competitive fortune, they will find it in Ashleigh Barty’s gritty survival of her Roland-Garros 2019 semi-final against the American 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova.

In a match of extraordinarily unpredictable ebb-and-flow, Barty converted a disastrous first set collapse and a grim second set deficit into tenacious victory on her sixth match point to triumph 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3.

In her first Grand Slam final, she will face another teenager in the 19-year-old world No.38 Marketa Vondrousova, whom Barty has defeated in straight sets in both their career meetings to date.

“That was one of the toughest things I have been through,” said the Australian. “My toughest match mentally, physically, the occasion, the conditions – it was pretty brutal out there. I played some really good tennis and some pretty awful tennis. I’m proud of myself for fighting, scrapping, hanging in there to find a way when I threw away that first set.

“It’s been an incredible journey the last two weeks, and I think maybe a blessing in disguise that we’re playing day after day, just to keep the momentum going. I’ve worked so hard. Now the only way to approach it is to enjoy it, embrace it, have fun and try to play with freedom. That’s when I play my best tennis.”

Speaking on Court Suzanne-Lenglen immediately after the end of the semi-final, Barty claimed somewhat improbably that she had “enjoyed every minute”. Presumably she did indeed relish capturing 17 of the first 18 points, to lead 5-1 and find herself holding two set points with just 15 minutes on the clock. But it stretches credulity that what came next was quite such a pleasure.

Anisimova, bidding to become the youngest finalist at Roland-Garros since Martina Hingis in 1997, astonishingly came roaring back to snatch the first set in the breaker, raising her arms above her head as if she had won the tournament itself.

Momentum swings

When the teenager surged on to raid 12 of the opening 13 points in the second chapter for a 3-0 lead, Barty’s situation could hardly have looked bleaker. All the “big mo” – that expression beloved of American politicians with reference to key momentum – was with Anisimova.

But Barty, as a grand old lady aged all of 23, found deeper resources to call on. Not for nothing has Barty reached four slam doubles finals. As steady light rain set in and the temperature became ever colder, she turned up the heat and rattled out six straight games to turn the match on its head once more.

Ashleigh Barty© Philippe Montigny / FFT

The open-mouthed Lenglen crowd, previously enchanted by the youthful fight of Anisimova, now responded to Barty’s sheer backbone. The decider was a duel of nerve, and only a fool would have ventured a forecast. Anisimova grabbed a break but to her visible dismay couldn’t make it stick, and from there Barty agonisingly edged towards victory, point by nerve-shredding point.

At 5-2 she saw three match points come and go, and when another pair eluded her in the next game, memories of her first set implosion loomed large. But on her sixth match point she sent an unreturnable backhand down the line, and the day belonged to her.

The Australian’s win means her ranking will rise to at least No.3 when the new list is released on Monday; and if she lifts the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, she will become the first Australian since Evonne Goolagong Cawley to be as high as No.2.

"I fought my hardest, and it's amazing," beamed Barty. "It's all incredible, I can't believe it, and I can't wait to be in the final."