July 10, 2021
Ashleigh Barty needed ten long years to cross the bridge between her Junior Wimbledon title and ultimate glory in the Ladies’ Final.
She also needed a set more than should really have been necessary.
Perhaps that extended uncertainty only accentuated the ecstasy when victory eventually came her way 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3.
Barty said: ‘This is incredible. Thank you to every single person in this stadium. You have made my dream so special. I didn’t sleep a lot last night.’
What got her over the line? A stretching backhand volley and a bullet ace. Then within moments the tears and a climb up to her team, a tradition her compatriot Pat Cash started many years ago.
Ashleigh Barty and Karolina Pliskova played a marvellous final and it leaves us longing for more drama from the men on Sunday.
The underdog hit defiantly when it appeared to be over. Karolina delighted the crowd with her comeback.
Barty’s nerve was sorely tested. It was her first Wimbledon final too, remember.
But when Ashleigh’s winning poise finally came, it created a shining conclusion and tennis of quite stunning resilience and variety.
At first this showpiece looked totally one-sided. Poor Pliskova froze until it was pretty much too late in the opening set.
From the moment the players stepped onto Centre Court, it was obvious that Barty was far more relaxed than her opponent.
The world number one had the dream start when she won 14 points in succession, a new record.
The Czech began to show some fight towards the end of the first set.
But then she fell a break behind in the second set too, and all seemed lost.
It looked as though the rest of the match would be a formality for the favourite.
Then, with Tom Cruise watching on, Pliskova began to attempt her very own mission impossible.
She broke back and even led 4-3. Barty still refused to crumble.
Could Karolina take us to three sets?
The crowd wanted it. They cheered her all the way. They had wanted the European to make a classic final of it from the start.
But leading 40-0 at 5-5 in the second, Pliskova grew tentative once more and lost her service game.
Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge applauded at the sheer quality of the action as Barty tried to close out to earn the title in straight sets
But to every neutral’s delight, Pliskova hit back to prolong the drama and force the breaker the final deserved.
The Centre Court’s lucky spectators were brought to their feet by the sheer joy and intensity of every point.
They gasped as Pliskova finally edged the tie-break and levelled as she fully deserved to do.
But Barty didn’t fall apart as the momentum shifted.
She took in the shift and reversed it. She produced her best tennis when it really mattered.
‘I told myself to keep fighting,’ she revealed later.
Within a few minutes she was 3-0 ahead in the decider.
We waited to see if Pliskova could provide one last twist. She couldn’t – and Barty had secured the most coveted title of them all.
Karolina said: ‘I enjoyed every minute of playing on this court.’ Then her own tears came to huge sympathetic cheers.