Ashleigh Barty continued her winning run as she defeated Donna Vekic 6-3 6-4 to earn her eight match win in succession.
Barty claimed her maiden Grand Slam singles title just a week ago on the red clay of the French Open. An unlikely surface for her first Major triumph, she’s now back on the surface that fits her game even better. She didn’t seem to miss a single beat in the big win over Nottingham finalist Vekic.
Barty adjusts to grass
The Australian No.1 wasn’t really finding her first serve with great regularity or consistency in the first two service games and she fell down an early break, but she clawed her way back in contention and it really proved to be the player that had a little more versatility to her game from the back of the court. Once she got the break back she settled into the matchup. She played a seamless service game to take the opening set and then was the far superior player for the rest of the match.
Vekic certainly did show flashes of very good tennis. The forehand down the line was effective in isolated moments, but as the match continued to drag on it became very evident that she wasn’t physically near her best. Perhaps she was feeling the effects of a very long week in Nottingham last week. The ability to defend started to disappear, and then she continued to breathe incredibly heavily when setting up for each groundstroke.
Barty recognised this completely and really wore the Croatian down from the baseline, making her pick the ball up from a devastating height on the backhand slice and choosing not to give anything away in the protracted rallies. Vekic obviously had the all-out aggression to really make things interesting at times, but nothing was really sustained at all, and she lost patience considerably in trying to break down the Australian’s baseline flaws on the day.
The World No.2’s service placement was once again one of the standout reasons she came out on top. She didn’t necessarily have the strongest rhythm on serve, but when she got the first serve in, it enabled her to control the point and limited what her opponent could do off the return.
Barty spoke highly of the Vekic grass-court game after the match, mentioning that she needed to be fully-focused in order to get the win. The Croatian can pose obvious threats on this kind of surface and in these conditions. This match ultimately now helps Barty navigate her way through the tournament and playing a Top-25 player in the first round and winning only helps her confidence even more.
“Yeah, I think it was probably as smooth as it could have gone. I felt really good with my feet on the grass. We haven’t had a hell of a lot of grass court time because of the weather but in a sense that made it even better because it was fresh, it was new. I could really just play by feel and try and work my way into the match. And there are still aspects that I want to clean up and do a little bit better but overall really happy with today. It was kind of the perfect match for me. I needed to be ready. Obviously, Donna knows her way around a grass court pretty well, so I needed to be ready and be sharp and it was pretty good today.
“I think overall just how clean I was in all aspects. I thought I served well when I needed to. There were times where I wasn’t great, but when I needed it, it was there. And I did well to get in on Donna’s service games. There were times where she made a lot of first serves in a row and I was able to dig and scrap my way into some points there. And just overall, I felt like I was pretty clean off the ground. It was just a perfect match for me to kind of dip my toes back in and get used to it again.”
Barty enjoying the transition to grass
Barty also talked through her transition from the clay to the grass. Many players struggle with it because of the different skills required in terms of the movement, but also the trust in your footwork on the slippery grass. The Australian, however, expressed her joy at being back on her favoured surface:
“Yeah, I do find it quite easy. I think because I love playing on it. Once I get back on the grass, I feel like a different person. You know, it’s a different tennis match, a different way that the ball is struck and it comes through. But I feel extremely comfortable on it. And I know that it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to have results or I’m going to feel great on the court straightaway, but certainly knowing that there is not pressure for me and no real worries and stresses about the transition makes it a lot easier.”
On being a Major champion
Barty now has to deal with a different kind of pressure. Now she has a target on her back, with many players now even more motivated to get big wins against her. Barty reassures that nothing changes in her own mind and that she’s very much the same person as before the historic fortnight in Paris:
“That is a nice burden to chuck on me, isn’t it [laughing]? No, I think — look, for me nothing changes. It was an incredible fortnight of tennis that we had without a doubt and some of the best memories of my career will come from those two weeks.
“But, as I said, I’m still the same person. I’m still the same Ash Barty and I try and prepare the same way. It was really nice to come out now and kind of get back into a normal routine of playing matches again and yeah, like I said, it’s pretty incredible, but nothing’s changed for me.”
Barty moves into the second round, where she will play the talented American Jennifer Brady for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Main Photo from Getty