Wimbledon 2021: Barty wins the battle of the Aussies and now must "hang tough" with Kerber

Back in the wooden-racket days, Australia dominated Wimbledon. Fling a boomerang around Centre Court and if it didn’t come back, that would probably be because of a direct hit on a title contender from the land Down Under.

Ashleigh Barty powers her way into the semi-finals with that generally unreturnable forehand
Ashleigh Barty powers her way into the semi-finals with that generally unreturnable forehand

Could Oz be about to acclaim its first singles winner since those far-off days? The first all-Aussie women’s quarter-final for 41 years produced a romping victory for Ashleigh Barty over Ajla Tomljanovic but the world No 1 isn’t thinking too far ahead.

She knows where the trophy is kept - “In a cabinet by the court entrance” - but hasn’t gone for a close-up look. “Maybe I’ll see it properly one day,” she said. Maybe on Saturday. Before then, though, there’s Angelique Kerber to overcome in the semis. The German “doesn’t give away any cheapies - she knows how to hang tough in brutal moments,” said Barty following her 6-1, 6-3 victory. But coming up against someone who has hoisted the trophy wasn’t “scary or overwhelming, just exciting”.

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The Australian invasion of SW19 in the 1960s and 70s - with one invariably going home with a prize - included John Newcombe, possessor one of the all-time great moustaches in any sport. There was that other handsome fella, Tony Roche, and Roy Emerson, he of the furious wind-up serve. Ken Rosewall was the greatest player never to win Wimbledon and don’t forget Rod Laver, the last man to win a calendar Grand Slam, an achievement currently under threat from Novak Djokovic.

Aussie women kept winning a little longer than the men during that dominance and Evonne Cawley vs Wendy Turnbull in 1980 was the feat Barty and Tomljanovic were emulating.

Both call Queensland home; both must have had family staying up beyond 1am to watch on TV. But on court they’re quite a contrast - Barty, small and pugnacious; Tomljanovic, tall and long-limbed.

The conqueror of Emma Raducanu needed every inch of those legs as Barty began by pounding her with her forehand, utilising the whole court, with the wicked topspin sending the ball well out of Tomljanovic’s reach.

Cawley has been a mentor to Barty and, in recognition of that, and her general brilliance as an Aussie champ, Barty wears a dress based on the designs favoured by Cawley, who first charmed Wimbledon as Evonne Goologong. Barty is the first Australian woman to be No 1 in the world since her heroine and here she achieved an early break and never let up. The first set was exhibition stuff and over in a flash - 24 minutes to be precise. But while appreciative of Barty’s shot-making, Centre Court doesn’t really approve of thrashings, and so encouraged Tomljanovic when she achieved a break of serve in the first game of the second set. Could she back that up? The answer was no. The next time Barty served Tomljanovic threatened again but dispiritingly for her, when it seemed like Barty might have overhit, the spin on the forehand would cause the ball to fall like a skua diving for lunch, invariably right on the line. It was, at least, more of a contest now. Tomljanovic broke Barty again, then held her serve for the first time since the opening game, but Barty steadied and saw the match out.

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