Posted on May 06 2021
Ashleigh Barty has returned to the clay courts of Europe for the first time since her maiden major title at the French Open in 2019, and it looks like she never left.
There are few players who can play the game of tennis like Ash Barty. Her variety, net play, spin and kick serve have catapulted her to the very top of the WTA Tour. Naturally, she enjoys playing on fast courts where she can come forward, finish the point early and keep her backhand slice nice and low.
But in 2019, seemingly out of nowhere, she won the world’s premier clay court event; Roland Garros. The clay courts of Paris being a far cry from the fast hard courts of Queensland where she developed her game style. She did so by quietly sweeping through the draw and beating Marketa Vondrousova in the final to lift the trophy and claim the biggest title of her career. Since that famous victory, she hasn’t travelled back to the red clay of Europe as she opted out of the entire 2020 season when the pandemic took hold. Now in 2021, she’s back on the red dirt and looking more comfortable than ever.
Since returning to the sport after a year off, Barty has won 3 tournaments and retained the world number 1 ranking. She’s now on a 16-match winning streak on red clay after she reached the Final of the Mutua Madrid Open on Thursday. A big shift occurred at the top of the woman’s clay court game earlier this week too, Ash took out the 2020 Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek in straight sets. This sends out a clear message to the rest of the tour, Ash’s 2019 French Open title was no fluke and she’s the best clay court player in the world.
Barty was also incredibly impressive when she took home the title in both singles and doubles two weeks ago on the indoor clay courts in Stuttgart. She seems to have figured out how to beat every type of player on the WTA Tour. Even big hitters like Kvitova can’t punch through Barty’s incredibly solid groundstrokes. What’s even more impressive is that this recent clay court success comes only a few weeks after she defended her title in Miami, a hard court tournament with unique, humid conditions. It serves as more proof that Barty has one of the most adaptable games on tour, and that she’s turning herself into a player who’s comfortable on all surfaces. Only a handful of other players can claim to be comfortable winning on all 3 surfaces; Serena, Novak, Roger and Rafa to name a few. So, needless to say, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to Ash Barty.
Barty endorses the Head Graphene 360+ Gravity MP 2021 but it’s thought that she actually uses the Head Graphene 360+ Gravity Pro 2021 when competing. It’s rare to see a WTA player use a racket that’s so control oriented like the Gravity Pro as most WTA players opt for more powerful frames. Barty set’s herself apart in that regard with a game that revolves around placing the ball precisely where she wants to and grinding down her opponents with heavy spins and acute angles, a style of play well suited to the Gravity Pro or the Gravity MP.
As well as generally being an adaptable player, Barty’s game style transitions particularly well onto clay for a number of reasons. Her backhand slice can really jump thorough the court on clay, making it hard for her opponents to build any rhythm. The deft angles she creates also work well on a clay court, wrong-footing many of her fellow players. She’s also extremely consistent from the back of the court, an aspect of her game that isn’t talked about a lot. All of these attributes make her a formidable force on the clay, and a real favourite at this year’s French Open.
She’ll most likely head into this year’s Roland Garros as the number one seed and she’ll be one of two defending champions since she missed last year’s event. With world number two Naomi Osaka still struggling to find her feet on the red dirt, there may be little that can stop Ash Barty when she plays in Paris in a few weeks’ time.