The kid from Ipswich, Queensland, who gave the game away four years ago, proved all her early years’ promise by making her first Grand Slam final on Friday, coming from a set and a break down to end 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova’s French Open run with a topsy-turvy 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 victory.
The No. 8-seeded Ash Barty, 23, who took nearly two years off from tennis to play cricket, will face another teen for the championship Saturday: unseeded 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.
“I’m proud of the way I fought and found a way back into that match,” Barty said. “It’s just been an amazing journey that I’ve been on. I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow.”
When she returned after her 21-month break in 2016 she was ranked at No.623, she now stands on the cusp of a world top 5 listing.
And she will walk out onto Court Philippe Chatrier tomorrow the favourite against Vondrousova to become Australia’s first French Open singles champion since Margaret Court in 1973.
Vondrousova also reached her first major title match, eliminating No. 26 Johanna Konta of Britain 7-5, 7-6 (2). Vondrousova has not dropped a set in the tournament and can become the first teenager to win the French Open since Iva Majoli in 1997.
Both matches saw massive swings of momentum, particularly Barty versus Anisimova, the 51st-ranked American who hadn’t ceded a set through the quarterfinals.
Barty began as well as possible, racing to a 5-0 lead within 12 minutes by winning 17 of the first 18 points.
“I felt,” Barty would say afterward, “like that happened really quickly.”
Moments later, with Anisimova serving at 15-40, Barty held two sets points. From there, Anisimova began playing the way she did in her upset Thursday of defending champion Simona Halep – and Barty suddenly lost her way.
Anisimova took six consecutive games, and in the eventual tiebreaker, she collected the last five points. That began a run of 17 points in a row for her en route to a 3-0 lead in the second set. But then it was Barty’s turn to change things and she went on a six-game run to force a third set.
There was one last big shift to come. Anisimova was up a break and serving at 2-1 in the third when her coach signaled from the stands that play should be halted because of rain. The chair umpire checked the white lines, though, and determined the match could continue.
Anisimova then got broken there, opening another four-game run for Barty. Even though Barty needed six match points to close things, she did, indeed, finish the job.
Vondrousova, meanwhile, trailed 5-3 in each set but came back each time. Konta wasted three set points in the opener.
She will hope to go one stage further than Ana Ivanovic in 2007, the last teenager to reach the Roland Garros final, when she lost to Justine Henin.
Konta, bidding to become the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam final since 1977, will be kicking herself after squandering leads in both sets.
The 28-year-old, who had never won a round at Roland Garros before this year, had three set points when she led 5-3 in the opener, but on first lashed an easy volley well over the baseline with the court at her mercy.
From that point on Vondrousova began to use her splendid array of drop shots, lobs and superb anticipation to take charge, helped by regular errors off the Konta racket.
She broke the Konta serve to level at 5-5 and then held with an exquisite drop shot and lob volley combination.
Vondrousova claimed the first set with a defensive lob that landed plumb on the baseline.
Konta consolidated her lead to 5-3 but again the wheels came off as her game began to disintegrate.
Serving for the set she lost a volleying exchange at 15-30 and then double- faulted at 30-40. Konta hit a forehand winner to take the set into a tiebreak but Vondrousova showed calm to move 6-2 ahead and then clinch victory.
Vondrousova, who has won more matches then any other player on the WTA Tour since the Australian Open, will become the first Czech to win the French Open since Hana Mandlikova in 1981 if she overcomes fellow Grand Slam final debutant Barty on Saturday.
Rafael Nadal blew past Roger Federer in damp, sandstorm conditions on the Chatrier showcourt to end a five-match losing streak to the Swiss on the way into a 12th final French Open final on Friday.
The Spaniard who remains one victory away from a record 12th title here beat his longtime rival in a battle of icons 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
But a finals opponent for the winner remained unknown, with Dominic Thiem leading Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 3-1 as the contest was paused for light rain at 1540 GM.
But 20 minutes later, with sun breaking through and the forecast looking dry, French TV showed Djokovic getting into his transport and leaving Roland Garros.
The strange behaviour of the top seed left no choice but to continue the semi-final on Saturday, day of the women’s final
Nadal said he was tested by both the weather and Federer:
“The conditions out there today have been so hard, so difficult to manage,” he said. “it was a day to focus, accept the difficulties and be positive all the time.
“That’s what I tried to do.
“After five of six games, it became a match with a good level of tennis, there were some great points.
“We played a great level in those difficult conditions.”
The second seed called the weather challenges “a little bit too much”
“It was so difficult to control the situation and understand the things that were going on on court.
“But I played a great match despite the conditions.
“I thought about the wind, but tried not to make it a distraction.
“I decided not to complain – or to complain little – and not to protest in case of an error or a ball which would have gone out because of the wind.”
With fans shouting support for 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer, the 37-year-old saved one match point but floated a return long on a second, marking the end of his return to clay this season after not playing Roland Garros since 2015.
Nadal’s victory in just under two and a half hours ended a six-match loss streak against the Swiss while leaving the Spaniard 6-0 over his rival on Paris clay.
Nadal owns their series at the majors after posting his 20th victory against three losses; Nadal is 24-15 overall against the Swiss.
Federer said that the gusting winds played havoc with both players.
“You get to a point where you’re just happy to make shots and not look ridiculous,” he said. “It’s that bad. It’s just really difficult for both of us.
“I don’t know what I could have done a whole lot different. I don’t think I played poorly in the wind today – it’s just that it’s tough on clay.
“You’ve got to try to take on the half volleys, too, all that stuff. It just adds to the equation.
“He’s the best clay-court player, so I can accept that. It’s not a problem.”
Statistics proved an ally for Nadal, who stands 100-0 in best-of-five clay matches once he has won the opening set.
“I’m very content to win and return to another final here. This has been the most important tournament of my career.”