Ash Barty joined an illustrious list of Australian names etched on Wimbledon silverware as she beat Karolina Pliskova in a nerve-shredding final to become the first woman from Down Under to win the singles title for 41 years on Saturday.
The 25-year-old world number one looked on course for an embarrassingly easy triumph as Pliskova suffered one of the worst starts ever seen in a Wimbledon final, but eventually needed her best to claim a 6-3 6-7(4) 6-3 victory.
After Pliskova struck a backhand into the net following one hour and 55 minutes of see-sawing action, Barty sank to her knees in realisation of fulfilling a childhood dream.
With tears running down her cheeks she then climbed into the stands towards her team, a tradition started by compatriot Pat Cash when he won the men’s singles in 1987.
When she returned to the lush grass, she spoke of her joy of emulating her idol Evonne Goolagong who won the first of her two Wimbledon titles 50 years ago, before adding her second in 1980, since when no Australian woman had won the singles.
Barty, like Goolagong, takes great pride in her indigenous heritage and has worn a scalloped-edged retro outfit in honour of the Australian trailblazer.
“I said just keep fighting,” Barty, whose participation at Wimbledon had been in doubt after she withdrew from the French Open last month with a hip injury, said on court after receiving the Venus Rosewater Dish from the Duchess of Cambridge.
“Kaja (Karolina) brought out the very best of me today. It took me a long time to verbalise that I wanted to win this incredible tournament… being able to live out my dream right now is better then I ever could have imagined.
“I didn’t sleep a lot last night and as I was thinking of all the what ifs but I felt at home out on the court.
“I hope I made Evonne proud.”
Barty won her maiden Grand Slam at the 2019 French Open but joining the likes of Goolagong, Margaret Court, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and John Newcombe as a Wimbledon champion cements her name amongst Australian sporting greats.
“So happy for you, our dreams come true, what a fight,” four-time Wimbledon champion Laver said on Twitter.
Not since 1977 had two first-time Wimbledon finalists gone head to head in the women’s championship match.
But for the first set only one showed up.
Eighth seed Pliskova, whose previous Grand Slam final ended in defeat at the U.S. Open in 2016, suffered every player’s worst nightmare as she froze solid.
Her feet seemed stuck in clay, her arms in a straight jacket and her mind in a fog as Barty helped herself to the first 14 points of the match with clinical precision.
It felt like a slow motion train crash and the 15,000 Centre Court crowd did not know whether to watch or turn their faces away out of respect for the suffering Czech.
When she got on the scoreboard thanks to a Barty error, a huge cheer broke the tension and Pliskova smiled awkwardly.
A double fault left her 0-4 down though and it was hard to see how she would win a game, let alone the title.
With Barty rampant, it looked as though she might not require much more than the 23 minutes it took Suzanne Lenglen to defeat Molla Mallory in 1922, the shortest final on record.
But gradually the 29-year-old Pliskova de-frosted and she broke Barty’sserve to love to win her first game, only to surrender serve for the third time in the match.
En route to the final, she had been broken only four times and served 54 aces.
Barty got bogged down in the mediocrity and she lost consecutive games before sealing a bizarre opener in 28 minutes.
When Pliskova’s gremlins returned with two double faults to drop serve early in the second set,the title loomed for Barty.
But the Queenslander began to tighten up and incredibly, after what had gone before, she found herself serving to stay in the second set at 4-5 as Pliskova’s power game began to click.
Pliksova’s fragility returned though and she surrendered serve from 40-0 at 5-5 to give Barty the chance to serve for the title, 10 years after winning the girls’ singles.
A succession of nervy forehands errors handed Pliskova a lifeline, however, to take the set into a tiebreak.
Lady Luck seemed to be smiling on Pliskova as she got a cruel netcord at 4-2 to drag Barty out of position before the Czech belted away a smash to huge cheers from the crowd.
Barty then double-faulted to send the final into a deciding set for the first time since 2012.
After surviving a nervy opening, Barty was gifted a break when Pliskova netted the simplest of volleys.
Pliskova hung on gamely at 2-5 to make Barty serve for the title, which on an afternoon of shredded nerves was never going to be a foregone conclusion.
Barty slammed a forehand volley into the net at 30-30 with an open court gaping. But she shrugged that off to save the break point and bring up match point with an ace.
One was all she needed as her dream became a reality.
REUTERS | LONDON