Ash Barty will be trying to win a second trophy in her past seven Grand Slam tournaments when she faces Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon on Saturday.
Pliskova seeks her first major championship, five years after losing in her only previous Slam final.
In matching up against No. 1 seed Barty after eliminating No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals, Pliskova hopes to do something only three women managed to accomplish since the Open era began 53 years ago: beat the top two seeds en route to the title at the All England Club.
Venus Williams pulled that off twice, actually — in 2000 (defeating No. 1 Martina Hingis in the quarterfinals, then No. 2 Lindsay Davenport in the final) and in 2005 (defeating No. 2 Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, then No. 1 Davenport in the final).
The only other examples go back at least a half-century: Ann Jones in 1969 and Evonne Goolagong in 1971.
Goolagong’s second Wimbledon title in 1980 was the most recent for an Australian at the All England Club. Like Goolagong, Barty has indigenous roots; they’ve known each other for more than a decade and Barty is wearing a skirt-and-shirt outfit this fortnight inspired by Goolagong’s dress from 41 years ago.
“Evonne has guided the way,” Barty said. “She’s created a path for all of us as Australians, but as a family, and for our heritage to know that there is an opportunity to chase after your dreams and to do what you love.”
Pliskova came close to the 1-2 double at the 2016 U.S. Open, too, eliminating No. 1 Serena Williams in the semifinals before getting beaten by No. 2 Angelique Kerber in three sets in the final. Kerber’s victory at Flushing Meadows pushed her up to No. 1 in the rankings.
“So far, my second final, second time I’m playing against a player (who is) No. 1,” Pliskova said Thursday after coming back to top Sabalenka 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in a match with 32 combined aces, the most for a women’s match at Wimbledon since at least 1977.
“But, no, I think it can’t be any better than that. You want to play the best player in the final,” said Pliskova, who led the WTA rankings herself for eight weeks in 2017. “Of course, I don’t want anybody else but her there.”
That’s even though Pliskova is aware that she trails her next opponent 5-2 head-to-head — including three wins in a row for Barty — and knows what awaits in terms of the tennis.
“Of course,” said Pliskova, a 29-year-old from the Czech Republic, “she makes you feel a bit ugly with the game which she’s playing.”
That game is a mix of topspin-heavy forehands, sliced backhands, strong and well-placed serves and the knowledge of which shot to play when.
“Really intelligent player,” was three-time major champion Kerber’s assessment after losing to Barty 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the semifinals.
Barty’s lone major title so far came on red clay at the 2019 French Open, and, like Pliskova, she’d never been past the fourth round at the All England Club until this week.
But the 25-year-old Barty grew up playing on grass courts and was the 2011 junior champion at Wimbledon. After turning pro, she left the tour in 2014 for nearly two years off because of burnout, before returning.
“I’m certainly in a very different phase of my life now, as to where I was 10 years ago. I think I’ve had some incredible moments over the last 10 years of my career. Had some really tough moments, as well,” she said. “I have no regrets. I wouldn’t change anything.”
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