Ash Barty has earned a chance to emulate childhood hero Evonne Goolagong Cawley after advancing to the Wimbledon women’s singles final on Thursday night.
An emotional Barty overcame struggles with her first serve to defeat the three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber 6-3 7-6 (7-3) in the first semi-final in one hour and 27 minutes.
The mental strength of the world No.1 was never more evident when she came back from 4-1 down to force a second-set tiebreak in which Barty then raced to a 6-0 lead.
The 25-year-old Barty, who will play either Aryna Sabalenka or Karolina Pliskova in Saturday night’s decider, is the first Australian women’s finalist in 41 years since her mentor Goolagong, who defeated Chris Evert-Lloyd in straight sets in 1980.
A first Wimbledon final.@AshBarty, 50 years on since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won at The Championships, is one victory away from emulating her idol after beating Angelique Kerber 6-3, 7-6(3) 🇦🇺#Wimbledon pic.twitter.com/qgWxKoKYvI
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 8, 2021
“This is incredible. This is as good as a tennis match as I’ll ever play and I think Angie definitely brought the best out of me,” Barty said during her post-match interview on Centre Court.
“It was a hell of a match right from the first ball and I knew it was going to have to be that good.
“I’m incredibly proud of myself and my team and now we get a chance on Saturday to live out a childhood dream.
“Being able to play on the final Saturday here at Wimbledon is gonna be just the best experience ever!”
— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) July 8, 2021
In arguably the highest-quality women’s match in the tournament, Barty played her best set yet in the opener to take the initiative.
Then the 2019 French Open champion withstood the sort of inspirational form from a rejuvenated Kerber that took the German world No.28 to the 2018 title to fight back from 4-1 down in a thrilling second set.
Barty had started nervously, opening up with a double fault but once she’d saved a couple of break points in that first service game, she was quickly into her stride.
She immediately earned her own break with a wonderful piece of anticipation that saw her latch on to a Kerber smash and rifle back a cracking forehand winner.
Completely dominating with her Rolls-Royce of a forehand, she had another break point for a 4-0 lead before Kerber, fighting tigerishly, finally got on the board at 3-1 and began to pump up the intensity.
Yet Barty was immaculate and when serving for the set at 5-3, overcame another break point before delivering her third ace to take the stanza – her most assured of the tournament – after 34 minutes.
Congratulations @ashbarty – thrilled for your success. Best wishes for Saturday. 🚀
— Rod Laver (@rodlaver) July 8, 2021
Having dictated, Barty suddenly found herself on the retreat as Kerber went on the offensive at the start of the second, reprising some of the glorious tennis that had blown away Serena Williams in the final three years ago as she broke to race into a 3-0 lead.
But serving for the set, Kerber faltered, with Barty cashing in to break to love with a scintillating cross-court forehand.
Then she began to dominate again, winning 10 straight points as she powered to a 6-0 lead in the tiebreak, with the help of her 17th and 18th glorious forehand winners.
Kerber could only delay the inevitable, courageously saving three match points before finally netting a backhand.
Wimbledon dream: ‘I wasn’t sure it would ever happen’
Barty said that even a month ago, when struggling so badly with the left hip problem that forced her to pull out during the second round at Roland Garros, she could never have believed she’d be in the position she is now.
“I mean, we had 23 or 24 days in between finishing up in Paris and my first round here,” reflected Barty, after playing what she felt was one of the highest-quality matches of her career.
“To be honest, it was going to be touch-and-go. Everything had to be spot on to give myself a chance to play pain-free and to play knowing that I could trust my body.
“To know that my body’s held up over a fortnight off a different preparation, and just being able to accept that I could trust everything that we’ve done to the best of our ability, is incredible.”
Asked when she first believed she could make a Wimbledon final, Barty conceded: “I wasn’t sure if it would ever happen, honestly.
“I think you have to keep putting yourself in the position. Wimbledon for me has been an amazing place of learning.
“Ten years ago, I came here for the first time as a junior and learned a lot in that week (when she won the girls’ title).
“Probably 2018 (when she lost to Daria Kastkina), 2019 (beaten by Alison Riske) was some of my toughest weeks playing.
“To come away with losses in those two tournaments, I learned a hell of a lot from those two times.
“A lot of the time your greatest growth comes from your darkest times. I think that’s why this tournament has been so important to me.
“I’ve learned so much with all my experiences — the good, bad, and everything in between.”
Barty said it had been an incredible journey.
“I’ve had ups and downs, and everything in between, and I wouldn’t change one day or one moment, or one route we’ve taken on my path,” she said.
“It’s been unique, it’s been incredible, it’s been tough, and I wouldn’t change one thing about it.
“I’m enjoying every single day that we get to come out here and do what I love, and being able to on the final Saturday here at Wimbledon is gonna be just the best experience ever.”
Dylan Alcott aims for ‘golden slam’
Australian wheelchair tennis phenomenon Dylan Alcott has powered into Wimbledon’s quad singles final, continuing his quest to win a ‘golden slam’ of all four major titles and the Paralympics.
The Melbourne champion, who has already won his home Australian Open and French Open titles, is hot favourite to successfully defend his Wimbledon crown after beating American wildcard David Wagner 6-2 6-2 in the semis on Thursday.
The 13-time singles champion Alcott took just 73 minutes to defeat his 47-year-old US rival – a six-time grand slam winner – in an impressive display that featured 11 aces and 43 winners.
The only men to beat Alcott in grand slams in the past two years are Briton Andy Lapthorne in 2019 and the young Dutch riser Sam Schroder in 2020, both at the US Open, and they were playing later on Thursday in the other semi-final.
The 21-year-old Schroder defeated the Australian in New York last year and also beat him at last month’s French Riviera Open to end Alcott’s 14-match winning streak.
“I’d have a thousand beers and be the happiest guy in the world if I did the golden slam, so I’m gonna try and do it. But all I can do is give it my best,” Alcott said.
“Mate, it’d be unbelievable. But it can be a dangerous game when you’re thinking too far ahead, so I try not to. I got burned once before doing that in 2019.
“But my self-worth, my worth to my community and my country is not dependent on me winning the ‘golden slam’.
“I used to think it was and then I’d fail and think, ‘I’m not worth it’ and ‘I’ve let everyone down’.
“But I can still be an ambassador for my sport if I lose a match and help my community – people with disability around the world.”