Barty, Pliskova Reach First Wimbledon Final

Ashleigh Barty (photo: @Wimbledon/Twitter)

LONDON/WASHINGTON, July 8, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 1 and top seed Ashleigh Barty, just a couple of victories from achieving her first Wimbledon Championships ladies’ singles title on the 50th anniversary of the first by her idol and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley, walked out on Centre Court Thursday afternoon to face 2018 Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber with a mission to win – and she did just that. Barty reached the second major final of her career while becoming the first Australian to reach the ladies’ singles final in 41 years. The last Aussie? None other than the Indigenous legend Goolagong Cawley in 1980.

Barty fought back from a break down at 0-3 in the second set after dominating the opener to beat Kerber, 6-3, 7-6 (3), in an hour and 27 minutes on Centre Court with the roof open, despite a mostly cloudy forecast, to reach her first Wimbledon title match. On Saturday, the Australian from Ipswich, Queensland, will try to add to her Grand Slam title collection that began with winning Roland-Garros in 2019 when she faces former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, who defeated No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka in three tough sets.

As the first semifinal unfolded, the No. 25 seed Kerber came into the match having won 10 straight on grass, beginning with her title run in Bad Homburg – her first since winning Wimbledon in 2018 when she beat Serena Williams in the final. The 33-year-old German was the only one remaining in the final four who had won a Wimbledon title before. After an uneven first set, Kerber got on track at the start of the second match and quickly jumped ahead to a 4-1 lead.

However, by the end of the match, Barty showed she had the skill to win and all of the answers to make it happen. An 11-point swing lifted Barty from 2-5 down in the second set to level matters at 5-all. Not only did this shift in momentum get Barty back into the match, it allowed her to pull out the semifinal victory in straight sets. She became just the first No. 1 seed to reach a major final since Simona Halep at Roland-Garros in 2018.

“This is incredible. I think this is as close to as good a tennis match I’ll ever play,” said Barty, the first Australian Wimbledon semifinalist since Jelena Dokic in 2000. “Angie definitely brought the best out of me today. It was a hell of a match right from the first ball. I knew it would have to be good if I was going to be able to compete with her. I’m definitely proud of myself and my team.

“I’ve got the chance on Saturday to try to live out a childhood dream.”

Indeed, part of the joy of watching Barty compete – and appreciating it – is seeing her enjoy the experience of competing. “That’s the journey, that’s the best part about everything and all the opportunities, I get to do it with the people that I love and people who have given so much of their time to help me be the best that I can be,” Barty said during her on-court interview after her victory. “We love every day, we smile every day, though sometimes the heartaches but also the best moments as well.”

On Thursday, Barty dominated most of the key statistical indicators: eight service aces, 38 winners against just 16 unforced errors; she won 88 percent (36 of 41) of her first serves and converted two of five break points. Meanwhile, Kerber hit 16 winners, committed 23 unforced errors, broke Barty just once in six tries and was outpointed 77-63.

By the end, Kerber, who said afterward she “left everything out on the court” and was proud of how she played, gave Barty a warm hug at the net and wished her good luck. Indeed, it was as Barty described her victory as a “moment of pure excitement.”

Pliskova achieves second major final

Meanwhile, the second semifinal between former World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, seeded eighth, and No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, appearing in her first major semifinal, guaranteed there would be a first-time Wimbledon finalist. It marked first time Sabalenka had been past the first round at the All England Club, while Pliskova became the sixth active player to reach the semifinals of all four Grand Slams.

The tussle between the two powerful and exemplary ball strikers – who played what Hall of Famer and BBC analyst Martina Navratilova described as “bam, bam tennis” – didn’t disappoint the near-capacity Centre Court crowd. The 29-year-old Pliskova from the Czech Republic, now ranked 13th, played arguably the best match of her pro career to reach the Wimbledon final with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win over the World No. 4 Sabalenka from Belarus.

“It’s amazing to be in the final,” a smiling Pliskova said during her post-match interview on Centre Court. “It’s an incredible achievement. It was an amazing match from both of us. I had so many chances in the first set and got a bit frustrated, but she was serving unbelievable. A lot of credit to her, but super happy that I managed to find the way to win.”

Pliskova faced just one break point during the one hour and 53-minute semifinal against the 23-year-old Sabalenka – who by this time had saved eight break points – and, ironically, it cost the Czech Star the first set when she was serving at 5-6 (30-40). However, Pliskova didn’t get too down on herself – she maintained her resolve – and by the end of the match, she withstood 18 service aces by Sabalenka, created 10 break points and converted two of them, which was enough to ensure her first victory over Sabalenka in three meetings.

The 6-foot-1 (1.86m) Pliskova clinched with her 14th ace on her first match-point opportunity. She outpointed Sabalenka 96-87 by hitting 32 winners to 17 unforced errors while Sabalenka countered with 38 winners but committed 20 unforced errors.

“It’s tough to enjoy it when she’s playing so fast that you don’t have time to think ab about what you want to do,” said Pliskova, who was playing her first match on Centre Court during the current Wimbledon fortnight. “There were some good rallies. I stayed focused. It was close. I stayed calm and positive, trusting in myself and my game. I’m proud.”

Now, Pliskova is into her second career major final and first since losing the 2016 US Open final to Angelique Kerber. When she faces Ashleigh Barty Saturday afternoon, it will be the first time since 1977 when Virginia Wade of Great Britain beat Betty Stove of the Netherlands that the Venus Rosewater Dish, awarded to the ladies’ singles champion, will have been decided by two players who had never reached the Wimbledon final before.

Indeed, there will be a first-time Wimbledon champion. Bring on the strawberries and cream.

Men’s doubles top seeds advance to title match

While the women’s top doubles seeds, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova lost in a marathon match on Wednesday, men’s top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, avoided the same fate on Thursday. The fought off the ball-striking charge of No. 6 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain to win 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5) in three hours and 19 minutes to advance to the title match.

Mektic and Pavic will face No. 4 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, who advanced over unseeded Simone Bolelli of Italy and Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (3), in the other semifinal.

Thursday’s Wimbledon results

Friday’s Wimbledon order of play

By the numbers

• Ashleigh Barty is one win away from becoming just the fourth woman in the Open Era (since 1968) to win the Wimbledon ladies’ singles crown after having won the Wimbledon junior girls’ title. Barty won the junior girls’ Wimbledon singles title in 2011. The feat has previously been accomplished by Ann Jones (1956, 1969), Martina Hingis (1994, 1997) and Amelie Mauresmo (1996, 2006).

• The Karolina Pliskova-Aryna Sabalenka semifinal, won by Pliskova 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, marked the first time since 2010 that the loser of the opening set won a women’s singles semifinal at Wimbledon.

“Quotable …”

”You see that she has a lot of confidence, that she played a lot of big matches, that she’s the No. 1 player in the world right now. But for me it was important to give everything I had on court. Yeah, like I said, she had always, like in the important moment, the better answer.”

– Angelique Kerber, 2018 Wimbledon champion, on facing Ashleigh Barty in the 2021 Wimbledon semifinals.