Ash Barty is out of the French Open, beaten by a debilitating hip injury that has forced her to retire during her second-round match against Poland’s Magda Linette.
The world No.1’s bid to regain the title she won in 2019 ended in hugely anti-climactic circumstances on Thursday night as she looked a shadow of herself on Court Philippe Chatrier, unable to move freely and in evident discomfort.
Barty said the experience was “heart-breaking” but ever the optimist and somehow finding a smile to mask the heartbreak she said she was convinced there would be a silver lining.
The world No.1 admitted it had been “brutal” and “tough to accept” that her dazzling clay-court season ended in such anti-climax at the very scene of her greatest triumph two years ago.
But even with question marks now hanging over her chances of competing in the English grass-court season, Barty believed something good would come out of her second-round exit.
“I’ve had my fair share of tears this week. It’s all good. Everything happens for a reason. There will be a silver lining in this eventually,” she said.
“Once I find out what that is, it’ll make me feel a little bit better – but it will be there, I’m sure.”
Magda Linette progresses to the third-round after 2019 Champion Ashleigh Barty retires due to injury, 6-1, 2-2 [ret].
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 3, 2021
Barty, who had won three tournaments on her global tour en route to Paris, admitted that it had been a “small miracle” that she’d managed to get through her opening round against Bernarda Pera, during which she’d also needed a medical timeout.
This time, though, the pain was there from the start.
“I just tried to give myself a chance, tried to give myself a chance and see how it felt,” she shrugged.
After losing the first set 6-1, Barty underwent a medical timeout to see if she could somehow battle through the match.
But after a brief revival at the start of the second set, she had to offer her hand to Linette with the scores locked at 2-2.
It was a desperate end to Barty’s dream of winning back the title after giving her defence a miss in COVID-hit 2020 but the “acute” injury that she picked up in practice at the weekend proved too much.
It had troubled her in her opening-round victory over Bernarda Pera, during which she’d also needed a medical timeout, but this time Barty looked in serious trouble from the start.
Linette, the world No.45, had told AAP before the match that she wouldn’t be distracted by all the talk of the Australian’s injury and she proved true to her word, quickly earning a break to go 3-1 ahead as Barty’s movement was nowhere near as fluent as usual.
She visibly winced during the sixth game as she tried to stretch to reach a half-volley and there was no pop on her usually dynamic serve.
Feel better, Champ.
Just hours into play on Day 5 and there is plenty to catch up on. Get the latest on Barty's retirement and other action around the grounds.👇 #RolandGarros
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 3, 2021
By the end of the opening set, Barty was already reduced to trying to keep the rallies as short as possible but the errors kept flying from her racquet, 14 in all in the opening stanza.
By the time Linette produced a drop shot at 5-1 up, Barty could hardly even run for the ball as the set was over in just 26 minutes.
She stayed on court for a while, talking to the doctor before going off for some lengthy treatment.
When she returned, her serve improved and, briefly, she looked as if she might be up for the fight.
Yet once Linette had won the fourth game, she had no more to give and looked a picture of despondency as she went to the net to shake hands with the Pole.
“It was just becoming too much. Right from the first game, I was battling the pain, and it just became too severe, and was becoming unsafe,” Barty said.
“It was a decision, just a tough one, that had to be done.
“We had a fantastic lead-up. And for my body to let me down is really disheartening, but knowing that we also did nothing wrong. It’s something that can’t be explained at this time.”
Astra Sharma exits
Ons Jabeur had made no bones about how she was out for “revenge” – and Astra Sharma has been the one to suffer as the Tunisian’s wizardry sent the Australian spinning out of the French Open.
Perth’s Sharma had won the pair’s previous encounter at the Charleston Open final in April to lift her maiden WTA title and left Jabeur, who’d been the overwhelming favourite to win, bursting to prove a point.
She did so with a brilliant exhibition on Thursday, the No.25 seed asserting her all-court superiority with a 6-2 6-4 victory full of terrific variety and skill in just 64 minutes.
Jabeur is the trailblazer who was feted at last year’s Australian Open for saying she wanted to inspire young people across the Arabic-speaking world after becoming the first Arab woman to reach a grand slam quarter-final.
Again, she demonstrated here with her dismantling of Sharma’s power game that she can be a threat to anyone