Ashleigh Barty celebrated a Wimbledon final she thought impossible after beating Angelique Kerber to become the first Australian woman to reach the singles showpiece for 41 years.
Barty’s 6-3 7-6 (3) victory over 2018 champion Kerber puts her through to a second grand slam final and with the chance to emulate her mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won the second of her SW19 titles in 1980.
Barty’s outfit is a tribute to the one worn by Goolagong for the first of her victories in 1971 and the 25-year-old will go into the final against Karolina Pliskova as the favourite.
There were major question marks over Barty’s position at the top of the rankings given she did not travel at all last year once the pandemic struck.
But she has calmly set about showing this year that she belongs exactly where she is and was the favourite to win a second French Open title only to pick up a hip injury and be forced to withdraw.
Barty said: “I think we had 23 or 24 days in between finishing up in Paris and my first round here. 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.
“If you told me a month ago we’d be sitting in this position, I really wouldn’t have thought that we would even get close. I think it’s pretty special what we’ve been able to do the last month.”
Achievement UNLOCKED 🔓
— wta (@WTA) July 8, 2021
Despite making her grand slam breakthrough on clay, Barty’s game has always appeared a perfect fit for grass and she won the junior title a decade ago aged just 15.
She demonstrated why immediately against Kerber, who has been resurgent on the big stage this tournament after winning a warm-up title on home soil in Germany.
Barty won the first three games, using her kick serve effectively and painting the lines.
Kerber improved, finding her backhand down the line, but the glimpses she did have were invariably snuffed out by a big Barty serve.
Kerber’s last victory over a top-10 player was two years ago but she began the second set much better, capitalising on a slight drop in level from her opponent and beginning to assert some authority from the baseline.
She led 3-0 and 4-1 but the advantage was slender and it was no real surprise when Barty broke back for 5-4 on a weak game from Kerber.
The German forced a tie-break but quickly found herself 6-0 down and, although she saved three match points, Barty clinched victory on her fourth opportunity.
“It was incredible,” said the top seed of her winning moment. “It was just almost a moment of relief, a moment of pure excitement. It was something that I never, never knew if I would feel. I think being able to have an opportunity to play in a final here at Wimbledon is incredible.
“That match was a great level, the best level I’ve played in quite some time. I think Angie is an incredible competitor. She brought out the best in me today.”
Barty has followed the trail blazed by Goolagong Cawley for indigenous Australians, and she added: “It’s a really special anniversary for Evonne.
“I couldn’t be more proud to be in a position to wear an outfit inspired by her. Now to give myself a chance to create some history almost in a way that’s a tribute to her is really exciting. I couldn’t be more rapt to have that opportunity on Saturday.”
Kerber admitted she was beaten by the better player but the 33-year-old leaves the All England Club knowing she can be a contender once more.
“She is a really intelligent player and she knows how to play also with her slice, and then she’s going forward with her forehand,” said the German. “She really served well today.
Congratulations @ashbarty – thrilled for your success. Best wishes for Saturday. 🚀
— Rod Laver (@rodlaver) July 8, 2021
“You see that she has a lot of confidence, that she played a lot of big matches, that she’s the number one player in the world right now.
“That was in my mind, that I really came back after such a long time, that I was able to turn around everything, that I won the tournament at home in Germany, that I played here unbelievable tennis, that I put so many emotions and my heart on court.
“I was really fighting for every single point starting from the first round here. That means also a lot to me after the last few months. If you go out and you have the standing ovation at the Centre Court in Wimbledon, that’s the best feeling you can have, even if you lost.”