The former is a burned-out prodigy reborn at age 23, on the verge of becoming the first Australian since Margaret Court in 1973 to win the red-dirt championships. The latter is a 19-year-old trying to take her place in a long line of Czech clay-court wizards that includes Martina Navratilova, Ivan Lendl and 2015 Roland Garros finalist Lucie Safarova. With a win, Vondrousova would become the first Czech national to win at Roland Garros since Lendl last bagged the title in 1987.
This is an intriguing, high-quality matchup featuring the two women who finished No. 1 (Vondrousova) and No. 2 on the Roland Garros Infosys Slams Leaderboard, which collates stats and rates players. Here’s a look at how Saturday’s finalists stack up in specific areas:
Despite her diminutive size, the 5-foot-5 Barty is a top-five ace producer in the WTA. It isn’t as much her speed (her fastest against Amanda Anisimova in the semifinals was 108 mph) as her smooth motion and precise Roger Federer-esque placement. Vondrousova hits about the same top speed on the radar gun, but Barty’s average first serve traveled 8 mph faster than Vondrousova’s in their respective semifinal wins. Barty leads the entire tournament field in first-serve points won, with Vondrousova not far behind at No. 4.
Return of serve
Barty’s specialty is holding serve; her hold percentage was fourth best on the tour going into Roland Garros, and she has been second best in Paris. Vondrousova, meanwhile, leads the WTA in percentage of return games won (Barty is not even in the Top 10) and ranked No. 2 in percentage of return points won.
Vondrousova also leads the French Open field in converting break points (counting only women who reached at least the fourth round). Her return has been the key to her success, particularly in her quarterfinal win over No. 31 seed and clay expert Petra Martic (Vondrousova won 50 percent of Martic’s service points in that match).
The final promises to be a battle between Barty’s sneaky-good serve and Vondrousova’s excellent return.
Watching Barty hit a forehand makes it easy to see why she was a phenom, a Wimbledon doubles finalist at age 16. The shot is as solid as it is smooth, and Barty has the legs to run around her backhand to smack inside-out winners whenever she sees a short ball. Vondrousova’s forehand is reliable — after all, she was trained in the wake of the Lendl era — but it isn’t a foundation of her game to quite the same degree.
Both women have excellent two-handed backhands, but Barty is more comfortable using a one-hander to hit slice. In Paris, she has routinely pinned opponents to their own baselines with a barrage of heavy slice shots, daring them to make an offensive move. The shot is also one of the keys to her status as perhaps the most well-rounded player on the WTA Tour. Vondrousova is no slouch, either. Sixteen of the 29 winners she hit in that excruciatingly tight match against Martic were off that wing. Still, having different backhands to call upon is a significant asset for Barty.
Neither of these women is especially fond of net play; both failed to make the Top 10 in the net play category at this event. Barty was 13-for-21 at the net in her wild, topsy-turvy semifinal win over Anisimova and 11-for-12 in her quarterfinal win over Madison Keys. In her semi win over Johanna Konta, Vondrousova advanced to the net just 12 times, converting 10 of those chances. She was 13- of-19 in her net points against Martic. It seems both of the women do their best work with their approach shots, setting up easy volleys or smashes.
Nobody on the WTA Tour is as mobile as Barty. Like former Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, she is built with a low center of gravity. Barty appears almost to roll without effort around the court, rather than striding and lunging. Vondrousova’s mobility is not quite as striking, but she has excellent anticipation and a great sixth sense for knowing where her opponent’s next shot is going. That’s great, but not good enough to match the athletic Aussie.
Coming into Paris, Barty and Vondrousova had exactly one Grand Slam quarterfinal experience between them; Barty lost in that round at the Australian Open earlier this year. In the big picture, Barty has a significant edge here. She has won four WTA singles titles, including a big one earned just two months ago at the Miami Open. She also leads the WTA Tour with 30 wins this year. She’s just 23, but her personal journey has given her a veteran’s breadth of knowledge.
At the moment, though, Vondrousova has a hotter hand in this “What have you done for me lately?” game. She has won just one title in her career, and that was more than a year ago in Switzerland. She is case-hardened, though, having survived some tough challengers during this fortnight without dropping a set. Vondrousova and Barty ranked Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, in wins over top-five players going into the French Open, but neither has faced one at this tournament.
Both women have shown real grit in some of their matches at Roland Garros, surviving seesaw battles in the second week. Each of them has every right to feel confident. Barty is more familiar with the pressure that comes along with success, while unseeded Vondrousova has less experience in finals. But as the underdog, Vondrousova can feel free to swing from the heels and worry about the rest later.
One big question: How will Barty react to that astonishing semifinal meltdown that allowed her to drop the first set against a 17-year-old opponent (Anisimova) who was behind 0-5, 15-40? Barty certainly got it together, winning despite losing the first set and falling behind 0-3 in the second, but is that glass in her mind half-full or half-empty?
Vondrousova has come far this fortnight, but expecting her to bag a major as just her second career title is a little much. Barty has won a big one. She has experienced enough to take just the positive — meaning, winning — out of her bizarre semifinal. A win here would be the logical conclusion of her return to the game. Look for Barty to win in the third consecutive three-set Roland Garros final.