Barty returns to site of greatest triumph

 - Dan Imhoff

Two years on from her maiden slam success in Paris, the Aussie was back hitting under a closed roof on Chatrier

Ashleigh Barty, Roland Garros 2021, practice© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

The nostalgia is unavoidable for Ashleigh Barty walking through the gates of Roland-Garros again for the first time since her watershed triumph two years ago.

The world No.1 was back on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Monday – now cavernous and carrying a distinct echo compared to the last time she stood here.

Much has changed since the Australian wrapped her arms around the trophy in a pre-pandemic world.

Chatrier now has a roof and in her first practice session in Paris, the Australian experienced her new, though somewhat familiar, surroundings with the lid shut.

The sight of Barty hitting again came as a relief in itself. It is 10 days since she made the difficult decision to withdraw during her Rome quarter-final showdown with American Coco Gauff, despite having taken the opening set.

Ashleigh Barty, Roland Garros 2021, practice© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

The 25-year-old cited an arm injury, which had flared up and made it too painful to continue.

"It's disappointing no doubt but it was important that I listened to my body and gave it time to rest and recover and make sure that… I'm 100 per cent fit for Roland-Garros,” Barty said following the retirement. “But the pain was becoming too severe, so it was important to try and do the right thing.”

Having spoken of bouts of homesickness in the past, Barty is braced for a long year on the road ahead under more trying circumstances than usual.

Ashleigh Barty, Roland Garros 2021, practice© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

Given strict Covid quarantine measures currently in Australia, Barty set off overseas in March and conceded she was unlikely to touch down on home turf again until the season had concluded.

“I have no idea when we'll be home,” Barty said in Rome. “We don't have a base. I think at the moment we're still flying by the wayside a little bit.

“It's been really nice to be busy. We've been jumping from tournament to tournament, playing plenty of matches. We've been invested in every single event. That's all you can do, is focus on the present.”

Fortunately for Barty, that focus had reaped a string of deep runs since leaving home shores.

Ashleigh Barty, Roland Garros 2021, practice© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

She defended her Miami title before the switch to clay, where Paul Badosa was a surprise winner over her in the Charleston quarter-finals.

Reigniting her love for European clay, she held off Aryna Sabalenka to triumph in Stuttgart – where she also won the doubles with Jennifer Brady – before the Belarusian turned the tables in the Madrid final a week later.

Barty had compiled a 13-2 record on clay before her untimely withdrawal in Rome, which also included wins over the likes of last year’s Roland-Garros champion Iga Swiatek, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova.

Ashleigh Barty, Roland Garros 2021, practice© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

Three champion’s trophies from four finals reached in 2021 and the excess baggage charges traipsing across the US and Europe would begin to mount.

“I'm very lucky to be in a position in the last few weeks where we have been playing for titles and it's been really exciting,” Barty said. “Thankfully we are able to ship those home, which are a nice surprise on Mum and Dad's doorstep.”

A second Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen would be an even sweeter postal delivery.