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Unsinkable Ashleigh Barty overcomes injury and Bernarda Pera in Roland Garros return
Hindered by a left hip flare-up, the top seed relied on supreme mental strength to prevail in three sets in Paris.
Published Jun 01, 2021
WATCH: Ashleigh Barty seals her victorious return to Roland Garros in three sets over Bernarda Pera.
In a match that pitted movement against mental strength, Ashleigh Barty proved that, even on one leg, the world No. 1 is the toughest out in tennis.
Barty made her first trip to Roland Garros since winning the title in 2019 and drew from her wealth of experience to out-gut Bernarda Pera, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
"Every different experience, whether it's an opponent or a physical challenge, I feel like you learn to overcome it and you learn to accept it," Barty said after the match. “That was a massive part of today, accepting the fact that, yes, I may not be absolutely 100% but I'm certainly good enough to go out there and fight and do the best I can and give myself a chance to win matches.”
The Aussie compiled an 18-3 record from March to May, winning titles in Miami and Stuttgart, before pulling up injured at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. She looked hindered in parts against Pera, who came agonizingly close to breakthrough wins in both Madrid and Rome (against Belinda Bencic and Garbiñe Muguruza, respectively).
With a game that depends on precision, Barty was inhibited yet often unencumbered against Pera, determined to place the ball in uncomfortable positions despite lacking the serve and slice that's taken her to the top of the WTA rankings.
“I'm not going to hide behind the fact I'm not quite 100%,” she said, “but I can guarantee that I will go out there with the right attitude every day and be really accepting of that and give it a crack no matter what. I think it's going to be tough now without a doubt. I'm excited to be here, excited to play and have another opportunity to be playing in a Grand Slam.”
Looking for her first Top 10 win since 2018, Pera recovered from a slow start and leveled the match as Barty took a medical timeout to address what she later described as a left hip "flare up" that occurred over the weekend. Ascending early in the decider, the unseeded American was first to break point, holding a pair of opportunities on the Barty serve.
The top seed gamely saved both and would lose just two more points on serve the remainder of the match, pressuring Pera into 19 unforced errors in the final set (49 overall).
Pera can nonetheless take heart in the fact that champions are indeed made and not born—and that Barty, too, once struggled to find the mentality necessary to compete with the game’s best. In a week where mental health has become the hottest topic in tennis, it bears repeating Barty’s own origin story, her decision to step away from the sport after losing herself in a sea of overwhelming expectations.
Her 15-month hiatus in 2014 took nothing from her natural talent, and instead helped her focus on fulfilling her destiny. Her subsequent decision to sit out the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, initially questioned, has already paid off—the 25-year-old will leave Roland Garros assured of the No. 1 ranking on the strength of her stellar spring schedule.
How quickly her hip heals will likely inform her chances of capturing a second Roland Garros title, but the top seed, who next plays Magda Linette or Chloe Paquet, seems up for the challenge of playing through pain—eager to improvise as the opposition collectively recalibrates their own chances of scoring a career-changing upset.
Even then, they’ll be in for a challenge of their own as they aim to rattle the unsinkable Ashleigh Barty.