Ash Barty has realised her Wimbledon dream, repelling a ferocious comeback from Karolina Pliskova and imposing her own glorious all-court game in a compelling three-setter to win the trophy she had always longed to hold.
Just like her idol and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley half a century earlier, Barty, another Indigenous Australian, annexed the Venus Rosewater Dish but she needed real steel to go with the style on Saturday to win 6-3 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 on Centre Court.
Barty had said she would have to play the match of her life to become the first Australian woman since Goolagong Cawley in 1980 to take the crown and she did just that, breaking the most feared serve in the competition six times.
Yet she effectively had to win the match twice, having served for it at 6-5 in the second set and seemingly roaring to her dream triumph before the Czech world No.13 finally shook off her early nerves to battle back, win a fortuitous tiebreak and take the match into a decider.
Barty then showed why she’s the world No.1, recovering her poise to take the final set after one hour and 55 minutes and she slumped to her haunches, with tears of joy, as it dawned what she’d achieved.
It marked the most significant milestone yet on an incredible global journey for 25-year-old Barty, who left Australia in March and had suffered tournament-winning elation and injury-ridden despair in equal measure leading into this crowning triumph.
Just a month ago, she feared she would not even make the start line at Wimbledon because of the hip injury she suffered at the French Open.
Yet after a remarkable rehabilitation and growing stronger with each round, Ipswich’s finest saved her best for last to become only Australia’s third ladies champion after Margaret Court and Goolagong as she lifted her fourth title of an astonishing year.
With Pliskova seeming almost paralysed with her stiff movement and unusually tame serving, Barty had torn into her, instantly breaking a delivery that had hitherto only been breached four times throughout the whole tournament.
Justifying being the overwhelming favourite as she held a 5-2 career advantage over Pliskova going into the final, Barty’s superior all-court prowess eventually prevailed despite the eighth seed making a fight of it after starting like a statue.
The roof had been opened on Centre Court shortly before the first showdown to feature two first-time finalists since 1977 and Barty, who’s won their past three meetings, made a perfect start.
She reeled off the first three games without dropping a point and when the frozen Czech finally got on the scoreboard after losing 14 straight points, Pliskova got sympathetic cheers from the crowd.
A double fault saw her go 4-0 down but Barty, in complete command, then tossed in a careless service game to give the 29-year-old a chink of light.
That was instantly blocked out as Barty took the next game but Pliskova showed signs of at last finding her feet, with a glorious service return winner earning her another break with the Australian serving for the set.
But Barty made no mistake in her next service game, winning to love to take the weirdly uneven opening set in just 28 minutes.
It couldn’t be that easy for Barty and it wasn’t, Pliskova suddenly finding her mojo to reel off nine straight points and move into a 4-3 lead in the second.
With a match having broken out, Barty, now looking a mite nervous herself, started using her backhand slice to it most devastating effect as Pliskova got broken from 5-5, 40-0 up.
Yet serving for a dream, she faltered, a double fault kick-starting a careless, nervous game and it continued in the tiebreak when two cruel net cords also came to Pliskova’s aid as she took the match into a third set.
It was a set that showcased why Barty’s the best as, intelligently, she began using killer slice even more effectively to race into a 3-0 lead.
Barty never looked back, banging down a seventh ace and seeing Pliskova dump a backhand into the net on championship point to claim the crown.