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Pliskova had a hard time playing; Barty had a hard time closing. In the end—in a match to remember—Ash won Wimbledon
Both players fought off their nerves and found some of their best tennis in an entertaining, and nerve-wracking finale.
Published Jul 10, 2021
Interview with the Champion: Ash Barty, who won the first 14 points of the match, and her second Grand Slam singles title.
It’s not easy playing your first Wimbledon final. Just ask Karolina Pliskova. She was frozen for the first four games on Saturday. She could barely get her arm through the air to hit her serves, which came in at three-quarters speed; or her ground strokes, which she nervously guided into the middle of the court. She had trouble getting her legs to move, too. In the second game, she watched a lob land a few feet away from her and made no effort to run for it.
Fortunately for Pliskova, it’s not easy closing out your first Wimbledon final, either. Just ask Ash Barty. There she stood, serving for the title at 6-5 in the second set, having led virtually the entire way. She had dreamed of this moment ever since she first stayed up late back in Australia to watch Wimbledon, and heard the names of her country’s legendary champions, from Rod Laver to Evonne Goolagong. And then this consummate pro, who never looks fazed by anything, proceeded to double fault, miss three forehands, and give the set away.
But that’s what made this a memorable, entertaining, and nerve-wracking final. Instead of letting her anxiety get the better of her, Pliskova loosened up and fired up, and showed off the serving and shot-making that had taken her this far. As for Barty, instead of letting her missed opportunity at 6-5 drag her down in the third set, she bounced back to take an immediate 3-0 lead, survive another hair-raising attempt to close it out at 5-3, and win 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3.
“It was the most incredible feeling I think I’ve ever experienced on a tennis court,” Barty said. “There was certainly disbelief. I’ve worked so hard my whole career with my team and with people that mean the most to me to try and achieve my goals and my dreams."
Barty has had better stat lines. She made as many errors as winners (29 to 30) and had the same number of double faults as she did aces (seven of each). But for all of her skills around the net, it was Pliskova who ventured forward more, and who had more success when she did. But, to reference the Kipling quote that adorns the entrance to Centre Court, Barty found a way to keep disaster at bay.
The first time it loomed was in her opening service game of the third set. Barty led 40-15, only to see Pliskova level at deuce. Looking in from the outside, you had to think Barty was reeling at this stage. She had squandered a chance to serve the match out, and had double faulted to give the tiebreaker away. Pliskova, meanwhile, had found a groove and looked as comfortable now as she had uncomfortable early. But instead of letting the match get any farther out of her control, Barty took a Pliskova return, stepped inside the baseline, and ripped a confident forehand winner. On the next point, she hit an even better drop shot to hold. Barty had stabilized, and she would soon have a 3-0 lead.
“I think being able to reset at the start of the third was really important, just for me to continue to turn up each and every point,” she said. “That’s all I was really focusing on, just trying to do the best I could every given point regardless of what the scoreline was.”
But there was one more disaster to avert. At 5-3, Barty served for the match for a second time. And for a second time she struggled. A backhand found the net. Then a forehand. Then a swing volley, which she almost never misses. Up 30-15, she was now down break point. Pliskova began the next rally with a return that sailed into the corner and somehow found the baseline. Was the break going to be hers? All Barty could do was try to get the ball back in the court any way she could. She reflexed it high and deep, and made Pliskova keep playing.
That was enough, as the Czech eventually overhit a backhand wide. Barty followed with an ace for championship point, and then watched as a Pliskova backhand found the net.
“I think there was some up-and-downs,” Barty said. “I think there were small runs of momentum. I think there were small runs of opportunities on second serves from both of us. I felt like we were both able to take advantage when we saw runs of second serves in a row. I think that was the challenge today.”
Pliskova’s defeat was not unlike her loss in her only other Grand Slam final, to Angelique Kerber at the 2016 US Open. Both times, she started slowly, played some lights-out tennis in the second and third sets, and narrowly lost. Both times she had the confidence to make the matches exciting, but not enough to get herself over the finish line.
“Of course, horrible start,” Pliskova admitted with a smile. “That’s why I’m more like proud about the way how I find a way back in that match. I mean, not really close to winning, but it was one set all after.”
As usual, she took everything in stride, and even cracked a joke at her own expense.
“I felt actually like super good after on court just to play in front of this crowd,” Pliskova said. “It’s something what we play for. In the end the result is, you know, we both tried to win so somebody has to lose. You have to accept that. I will definitely. I know how to lose, believe me. I’m so good in that.”
A smooth game, beautiful timing, a casually sonic serve, an easygoing attitude, and a laugh in defeat: Let’s hope Pliskova at 29 has bounced back for good, and that we see her in moments like this—on the winning side—again.
To reference the Kipling quote that adorns the entrance to Centre Court, Barty found a way to keep disaster at bay.
When it was over, Barty brought back memories of another Aussie champion. In 1987, Pat Cash was the first winner to make his way to his player box to celebrate with his family. Barty did the same today, but not before she briefly got lost along the way. At the start of the Open era, Australia owned Centre Court: men from Down Under have won the title six times since 1968, and women three. But Barty’s is the first since Lleyton Hewitt’s in 2002, and the first on the women’s side since Evonne Goolagong’s in 1980.
“Australians have such a rich history in sport,” Barty said, “and I think being able to be a very small part of that is something I always dreamt of, to try and create a legacy, try and create a path for young girls and boys to believe in their dreams.
“The stars aligned for me over the past fortnight. Incredible that it happened to fall on the 50th Anniversary of Evonne's first title here, too.”
Barty did it all in Aussie-legend style—with a polished and varied game, a sporting and understated attitude, and the ability to face triumph and disaster and treat them just the same.
“It’s coming home,” we’ve been hearing lately in England. Ash Barty is bringing the Wimbledon title back to one of its homes, too.