How did Ash Barty react on court when she had to pull out of a Grand Slam event that many had favored her to win? Pretty much the way you’d think she would react: Stoically and unflappably, with little more than a quick wave as she made her undramatic exit from a nearly empty Court Philippe Chatrier on Thursday morning.

The top seed’s only, tiny show of emotion came at the end of the third game of the second set. Hampered by an injured left hip, she had dropped the first set to Magda Linette, 6-1. After going off court for a medical timeout, she had come back and hit a flurry of good shots. Had she been cured by the trainer’s magic fingers? Not quite. When Barty held serve for 2-1, she frowned and looked down at the court. That was her way of saying that her Roland Garros, and her run of excellent play this spring, was over. A few minutes later, she shook hands with Linette, who moved into the third round with a 6-1, 2-2 [ret] win.

Off court, there was more emotion, and frustration.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Barty said. “I mean, we’ve had such a brilliant clay-court season and to kind of get a bit unlucky with timing more than anything to have something kind of acute happen over the weekend, and just kind of run out of time against the clock.

“It won’t take away the brilliant three months we have had, as much as it hurts right now.”


You Should Know: Jon Wertheim on Ash Barty's recent run of play on clay


Barty felt pain in her hip after hitting a practice serve this weekend, and said it was a “small miracle” that she even made it on court for her first-round match. Was it the result of playing more tennis over the last two months than she has in the past? Not according to Barty. She said this was a sudden flare-up, and not an injury she had ever experienced before.

“[It] had nothing to do with loads or anything like that,” she said. “As far as we can tell, it was literally acute, landing on serve one day, and that’s all she wrote. Yeah, it was brutal and tough to accept.”

Because of Covid travel restrictions back home in Australia, Barty had stayed on the road this spring and played virtually every week. She had won two titles, made the final in Madrid, and won the doubles in Stuttgart with Jen Brady. To have a No. 1 player commit to the tour like that was one of the highlights of 2021 so far; Barty’s presence added gravitas to every tournament she entered. Which means that having that run end with an injury at a major is not only tough for her, but for the sport as well. Hopefully other top players won’t take it as a lesson that they should limit their schedules; as Barty said, her injury happened in the moment, and was bad luck. Now she’ll need to find a way to treat it by the time the grass season begins, with Wimbledon starting just two weeks after Roland Garros.

Who benefits most from the 2019 champion’s exit? Everyone, really; Barty hadn’t lost in Paris since Serena Williams beat her in the second round in 2018. Most immediately, the women in her quarter—including Brady, Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Muchova, Ons Jabeur—will feel as if a run to the semifinals just got a little more realistic. Now that the top two seeds, Barty and Naomi Osaka, are out, players on both sides of the draw may feel the same way. Potential quarterfinals between Serena Williams and Aryna Sabalenka, and Iga Swiatek and Sofia Kenin, now loom larger.

It’s heartbreaking...It was brutal and tough to accept.


But Roland Garros will miss its anchor at the top of the women’s draw. Barty had embraced her No. 1 ranking this spring, and seemed to be building to a big result. With one one bad landing after a practice serve, that’s all over now. The good thing is that Barty, of all people, will understand that this is the way the game goes sometimes, and that there will be more majors, even bigger majors, very soon.

“I’ve had my fair share of tears this week,” Barty said. “It’s all good. Everything happens for a reason. There will be a silver lining in this eventually. Once I find out what that is, it’ll make me feel a little bit better, but it will be there, I'm sure.”