July 8, 2021
Ashleigh Barty has captured everyone’s heart at Wimbledon this year.
On Saturday she has the chance to turn a childhood dream into reality.
Karolina Pliskova will stand in her way after beating Aryna Sabalenka 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the second semi-final.
The willowy Czech is moving well won’t give an inch to Barty. But Ash will still be favourite to take the title with her superior subtlety.
And that triumph would complete a remarkable personal journey that saw her give up tennis completely at one stage.
How lucky we are that Barty saw fit to return and grace the spiritual home of tennis.
Former Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber couldn’t match the Australian’s variety and resolve in the first semi-final.
Barty stormed to a 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) victory by playing the big points best.
She broke first and defended her lead despite Kerber often taking the initiative early in Barty service games.
Maybe Ash would have crumbled under the pressure in years gone by.
But Wimbledon 2021 seems to be Barty’s time.
After securing the first set on Thursday she endured a determined fightback from Kerber.
The more experienced campaigner served for the second set but couldn’t close out when it mattered.
So Barty battled her way to a tie-break and then showed exactly why she is world number one.
Moments later Ash was 6-0 up in the breaker and a just point from victory.
She did wobble for a few seconds as a defiant Angie hit back with three successive points.
But Barty wasn’t to be denied and looks to have the confidence and comfort on grass to go all the way.
There has never been any theoretical doubt that she could win Wimbledon or thrive on this surface.
Barty won Junior Wimbledon way back in 2011 but didn’t like the pressure or the endless travel the tour brought with it.
In 2014 she quit tennis and took up cricket and golf instead. By 2016 she was ready to give the WTA tour another go.
The rest is history. In 2019 Ashleigh won the French Open and the Tour Final, the most lucrative match ever played.
But it has never been about money or fame for Barty. If she can’t have fun then she doesn’t want to play.
Fortunately for all of us, she is now having plenty of fun.
And she feels so closely connected to her team that she talks about victories in terms of what “we did” and what “we feel.”
It’s insurance against depression and isolation. And it works.
After beating Kerber she said: ‘This is incredible. It’s as close to as good a tennis match as I’ll ever play. Angie brought the best out of me.’
It was true. Drop shots and slices, lobs and diagonal passes, she had it all to go with her blistering serve.
Barty added: ‘On Saturday we get the chance to live out a childhood dream.
‘I want to share it with the people who help me be the best I can be.
‘Having fun and playing on a court like this, there’s nothing better.
‘I’ve had an incredible journey and I wouldn’t change one part of it. It’s been unique, incredible and tough.
‘Coming out and playing the final at Wimbledon is just going to be the best experience ever.’
If Barty really does have fun and avoids the old unwanted feelings of pressure or expectation, she will win.
Of course Pliskova will have other ideas. It should be a terrific final
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