Both Caroline Garcia and Ashleigh Barty came into the finals of the 2017 Wuhan Open looking to win the biggest title of their career. The 24-year-old Frenchwoman Garcia advanced to the final round by taking out #12 Angelique Kerber and #7 Dominika Cibulkova along the way, whereas Australia’s Ashleigh Barty went two better by dispatching four seeds in a row, including #3 Karolina Pliskova, #5 Johanna Konta and #8 Jelena Ostapenko. Garcia has won three titles in her career, although none at the Premier 5 level, whereas Barty won her first title ever earlier this year in Kuala Lumpur.
The two also bring in compelling back stories into the tournament. While both have been identified as having immense potential, they’ve had better results in doubles than singles, with Barty having made the finals at all four Grand Slams (including three in 2013) and Garcia winning one Grand Slam title (French Open 2016 with Kristina Mladenovic) out of two final appearances.
As far back as the 2011 French Open, Garcia has been called a future #1 by none less than Andy Murray. However, the Frenchwoman has never quite lived up to the expectations, having only reached the quarterfinal stage of a Grand Slam once, at the 2016 French Open.
Barty has had an even more up and down road. After failing to translate her incredible early success in doubles onto the singles court, she decided to completely step away from the game of tennis at the tender age of 18. After a year and a half away, she finally re-found love for the game, coming back to a full schedule only this year. Her run at this year’s Wuhan Open represents the best week ever in her young career.
Understandably, both players began the match with a lot of nervous energy. Barty’s opening service game lasted 9 minutes and featured 7 deuces and 2 break points before she was finally able to hold. Garcia played the more aggressive game, taking Barty from side to side in long, punishing points, on the way to a 5-3 lead. Serving for the set, the Frenchwoman was herself broken, eventually sending the set to a tie-break. Garcia seemingly abandoned the ground game which had been working so well for her throughout the set and made several ill-timed forays to net, losing them all on the way to giving up the first set, 6-7 (3).
Breaks continued to come fast and furious in the second set where each woman seemed to swing more freely when behind. With Barty serving at 3-2, seven consecutive breaks followed, leading to a second tie-break. Having served for the match twice and been broken, Barty appeared to retreat even further in the tie-break, sending a final forehand wide. After 2 hours and 6 minutes, one set would decide the 2017 Wuhan Open champion.
In the final set, games were close, although Garcia was the more consistent of the two, especially on serve. The Frenchwoman allowed no break points against her while breaking the Australian twice. As Barty sent a final return into the net, Garcia collapsed to the court and went to embrace her father to celebrate a 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over Ashleigh Barty for the 2017 Wuhan Open title, the biggest of her career. “My serve let me down when I was serving for the match,” said Barty afterwards. Still, the young Australian was able to put the week in perspective. “I put myself in a position where I could win the match, and tonight I couldn't finish it off, which is disappointing. For us, still a hell of a week, probably the best week of my tennis career. So, yeah, we move on and we live and learn.”
Comparing the Wuhan Open trophy with her French Open doubles title, Garcia said: “Of course I'm a singles player, so singles mean more.
“When you play a doubles and you won French Open, it's different because you share it with someone. Our sport is very individual. I mean, you can share it with your team, but it's not the same you share with someone on the court who is doing the same effort as you.”
“Win a title, it's always something very special. Premier 5, it's even better.”
On Monday, both Garcia and Barty will achieve career high rankings at world #17 and 23 respectively.