After watching Ash Barty’s amazing win at the French Open, here’s five observations from the tournament that junior tennis players might benefit from.
1. Become a clever tennis player
Despite being comparatively outgunned from the baseline against usually bigger, stronger players, Barty cleverly moved the ball around to put her opponents in spots where they didn’t look comfortable at all. Danielle Collins is one of the strongest, hardest-hitting players going around (just ask Angelique Kerber) but Barty simply out-thought her. And sure they hit the ball hard but most of her opponents simply didn’t have the range of shots or improvisation skills Barty has. Watching her one-handed backhand dropshot winner of a second serve was reminiscent of that other (rather famously) talented one-handed player who made it the semis of the mens singles.
2. Avoid the emotional roller coaster
Up 5-0 in the first set only to be down 7-6, 3-0 against Anisimova in the semis would have been enough to send some more high-profile tennis players into an obligatory 11-minute toilet break. But Barty never changed her body language or looked like she was starting to panic. And when she broke for 4-3 up in the second set, you got the feeling that she wasn’t going to lose this one. Every tennis player can work on this. So just be patient, smart, wait for the right opportunity, and keep it together. And let your opponent be the drama queen.
3. Practise every shot
The womens game has become increasingly power-driven (much like the mens) but that doesn’t mean everything. The slow, wet clay courts (and the wind) provided a much tougher proposition for players who love to slug it out from the baseline. Barty’s judicious use of her slice backhand, dropshot and net forays all proved vital at certain times in her matches, and she looked far more comfortable coming forward to the net than her opponents. It gave her game another dimension – and something every junior player needs at some stage of a match. That’s also a very good reason why juniors should play as much doubles as they can.
4. Do your research
You certainly wouldn’t know by looking at her in the final that this was a Grand Slam final. Ash looked completely unaffected by the pressure of the moment while Vondrousova came across as very jittery. Credit to her coach Craig Tyzzer too who looked like he was watching a local pennant match, and also looked in control of the situation. Under pressure, Barty never looked flustered, a great sign that not only did she knew exactly what she was doing out there, but that she had an idea of what she needed to do to beat each opponent. So do your research, and have a game plan of exactly what you want to do out there for each match.
5. Hang in there
In such a competitive, professional sport as tennis, it’s quite amazing to think that Barty had 2 years out of the game before rediscovering her love for tennis. It just goes to show that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to junior development, and just because someone got sick of the game doesn’t mean they can’t one day turn it around. So be careful of who you listen to, keep positive, and be inspired by the kind of tennis player (and role model) that the entire Australian tennis community could finally really benefit from.
Oh and one more thing – get out there and start practising your slice backhand.