Wimbledon 2021: Ashleigh Barty’s big bash just enough to quell Angelique Kerber comeback in a classic

In times past, a player standing in the middle of Centre Court and uttering the phrase “bloody good” might have resulted in mass tut-tutting, a spluttered Earl Grey ripcurl across the finest tablecloth linen and the offender being sternly reprimanded, if not actually clapped in irons.

Ashleigh Barty did this but then she comes from Australia where the phrase is part of everyday language, a term of endearment and just about the highest compliment. And anyway doesn’t it suit her combative style, her punchy volleys, her willingness to get down and scrap for every point?

The world No 1 - and now Wimbledon finalist - wasn’t referring to herself as “bloody good”. She was talking about her compatriot Ajla Tomljanovic who she overcame in the last eight. But, one round later against Angelique Kerber, Barty was bloody good enough to claim her place in tomorrow’s showpiece, and she had to be.

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Kerber, since her Wimbledon triumph of 2018, has had cause for a famous Barry Davies piece of commentary to be transferred from Olympic men’s hockey to women’s tennis: “Where oh where was the German?” No titles since that sunny day, and a plunge down the world rankings to No 28. But she arrived in this semi-final in the form almost of old, building on a home tournament success on grass at Bad Homburg and encouraging the belief she could spoil the Barty party.

Ash Barty celebrates winning through to her first Wimbledon final
Ash Barty celebrates winning through to her first Wimbledon final

She wanted to go from Bad Homburg to Excellent Bunnet and very nearly did. Her backhand was thrilling but Barty’s forehand was slightly more thunderous, and victory went to the girl from Ipswich, Queensland by 6-3, 7-6 (7-3).

Afterwards Barty rated the contest one the most high-quality she’s played. “Angie is an incredible competitor and I think, challenging myself against a champion, she brought out the best in me.

“I fought and scrapped when I had to, controlled the ball when I had to, had fun when I could - and being able to have the feeling on the last point that I could be going to the final was amazing.”

Barty was in dreamland. When she first picked up a racket as a kid, Wimbledon was the fantasy. Then reality takes over, the tough times happen, and doubt creeps in. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure it would ever happen for me.”There were hard losses in 2018 and the following year, but she learned from them. “Your greatest growth comes from your darkest times. You just have to put yourself out there, let yourself be vulnerable and keep chipping away.”

Angelique Kerber played her part in a terrific semi-final

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Arriving on court, Barty allowed herself a little wave back at the stands but Kerber seemed to be blotting out the applause, looking straight ahead, staying Zen. The Aussie showed some nerves serving first but her trusty forehand got her out of a hole. Then the same shot, but really thumped this time, earned her the first break.

Barty likes to take sabbaticals from tennis. During one back in 2016 she played cricket in the Big Bash. That would be a pretty apt description for her forehand, the most formidable in the women’s game, and it was soon threatening Kerber’s serve again.

Twice the German summoned what she would call “vorsprung durch technik” and we know as Hawkeye. What a comfort to be back in the realm of trustworthy technology after Wembley the previous night when VAR, deciding on that “penalty”, seemed to be short for variable.

The German’s unenforced sabbatical from titles didn’t appear to be going well. She wasn’t played badly, just that Barty was playing better, although occasionally there would be the odd chink and when the top seed was serving for the first set, Kerber got to break-point. The Big Bash rescued Barty, the set’s eighth forehand winner from her.

One set down, Kerber tried to rally. Two huge points, powered by grunts and acclaimed with shouts of “Komm-jetzt!” - “Come on!” - got her to love-40 on Barty’s serve, and a rare floppy forehand from the latter produced the break. The crowd roared. They love their former champs and they love their semi-finals going all the way.

Kerber’s backhand was now staking its claim for shot-of-the-match. Barty tried to break back and got to 15-40 but couldn’t take her chances. Kerber was in the squat-position for her returns - a classic pose - and Barty ended up being bowled over by one of them. Classic pose and building to a classic contest.

The German was bossing and as in the first set the opponent was absolved from any criticism. But, serving for the set, Barty chose the perfect moment to rediscover the Aussie brawn which had been quelled somewhat, and won to love. They battled it out for two more superior-grade games and in the tiebreak Kerber, tightening up, was required to save six match points. She managed three, smiling hopefully each time, before Barty prevailed.

“I tried everything - I put everything on the court,” Kerber said. The smiles were of quiet satisfaction. “I was telling myself that I’d come back after such a long time, that I was able to turn around everything, that I played here unbelievable tennis, that I put so many emotions and my heart on the court. I was really fighting for every single point, first round to here, and that means a lot to me.

But Barty, she said, had deserved the victory and a place in the final. “We both gave everything we could but she had always a good answer, the better answer. Yeah, she played great in important moments, risked it at those times, and I think that was the key at the end.”

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