LONDON – It could have been hard for Ash Barty to imagine that a trip to her first Wimbledon final was just around the corner when she stopped playing at last month’s French Open with a hip injury.
Or even when she was two points from being pushed to a third set by Angelique Kerber in their semi-final at the All England Club.
Barty does not let obstacles bother her for too long. She finds out a way. Therefore, she ranks as No. 1 and now stands with a win from another Grand Slam title after beating 2018 champion Kerber 6-3, 7-6 (3) on Thursday.
“I’ve had ups and downs and everything in between and I would not change a day or a moment or some kind of path that we have taken on my path and my journey,”
Her opponent in Saturday’s final will be No. 8 seed Karolina Pliskova, who came out of a power-hitting and serving screen to return to defeat No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
Pliskova produced 14 aces, Sabalenka 18. The difference: Pliskova was broken once, Sabalenka twice.
After going 0-for-8 on break points in the first set, the first set she dropped in six games, Pliskova became “a little frustrated,” she admitted afterwards.
But she went 1-for-1 in that category in each of the last two sets.
“It was just super important to stay in the game, stay focused,” said Pliskova, whose coach, Sascha Bajin, used to work with Naomi Osaka and was Serena Williams’ frame partner. “That’s what I did.”
Neither she nor Barty had ever been past the fourth round of the Grand Slam tournament on the grass court.
Pliskova, a 29-year-old from the Czech Republic, was number two at the US Open in 2016 to three-time champion Kerber and used to be ranked No. 1.
The 25-year-old Barty won the French Open in 2019 and is currently ranked No. 1. She is the first woman from Australia to reach the title fight at Wimbledon since Evonne Goolagong won the trophy in 1980.
“It’s really exciting to give myself a chance to create some story, almost in a way that’s a tribute to her,” said Barty, who has been wearing a dress intended as a tribute to Goolagong for two weeks.
Barty arrived in England without having competed since June 3, when she withdrew during her second round match in Paris with too much pain to continue.
“To be honest, it had to be touch-and-go. Everything had to be instead of giving myself a chance to play painlessly and play, knowing I could trust my body,” Barty said. “If you told me a month ago that we would be sitting in this position, I really would not have thought we would ever get close.”
On Thursday, she faced a major test in the second set, which Kerber was two points from owning, as Barty served as deuce while trailing 5-2. The full-capacity spectators also supported the comeback effort for the 33-year-old German with shouts of “Come on, Angie!” and “Go on, Kerber!”
But Barty stole himself to keep there, and then broke to get within 5-4 with a crossbar passing the winner.
It was part of a 38-16 advantage in overall winners for Barty, more than anything else responsible for her triumph. And this was remarkable: She compiled the many point-ending shots while making only 16 unforced errors.
“A good level, the best level I’ve played in some time,” Barty said. “Angie is an incredible competitor. She produced the best in me today.”
It was a pretty entertaining and, from point to point, pretty even competition, two talented baselines who were willing to try a volley, drop shot or lob when needed. They were each other’s just too long exchanges – a total of 22 points lasted at least nine strokes, with Kerber winning a dozen.
However, their approaches are different. Kerber is a left-handed man who hits flat ground layers and is fine with handling the enemies’ low shots, and often he drops a knee on the grass to get gearing.
Barty is a right-hander who relies on heavy topspin to be a forehand packed with power, and her slice backhand can produce difficult jumps on the grass.
She finished with an 8-0 edge in aces and 18-9 in wins in advance.
“I was trying to play my game,” Kerber said. “But she always had a good answer.”