Ashleigh Barty and Karolina Pliskova in the Wimbledon Final

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WIMBLEDON, United Kingdom — Central Court is back at full capacity as the UK gradually relaxes its pandemic restrictions. Fans who gleefully drank Pimm’s in their expensive seats definitely got two very different games for their money on Thursday.

first women’s semi-final Ashleigh Barty and Angelique Kerber, a craft fair filled with slender and crafty and often long rallies. Second semi-final with Aryna Sabalenka Karolina Pliskova, it was heavy metal: thunderous services, big bang turns, and Sabalenka’s screams.

But the goal was the same for everyone involved, and when the silence finally returned to the closest thing tennis had to a temple, the Wimbledon finalists were current world number 1 Barty and former number 1 Pliskova.

bartyDefeating Kerber 6-3, 7-6 (3), the player is aiming for his first Wimbledon title on Saturday. Rallying to beat Sabalenka 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, Pliskova will be aiming for her first Grand Slam title.

While Barty and Pliskova both have excellent serve, the finale will also be a contrast in style.

Pliskova, 29, has hired and fired multiple coaches in her professional career, is a 6 feet-1 angular twin from the Czech Republic with relatively straight strokes and a blunt line.

Barty, 25, is an Australian with a solid build and diplomatic skills who has worked as Craig Tyzzer’s coach for a long time and tends to use words like “we” and “our” when talking about tennis matches. . Pliskova likes to parry quickly without bouncing her shots, while Barty relies on the heavy spin. He has a punchy forehand, but his signature shot is a one-handed chip backhand that stays low on any surface but is particularly difficult for opponents to dig into the turf.

In Barty and Pliskova’s only previous match in a final, the shot was decisive: Barty prevailed in straight sets. 2019 Miami Openis on its way to claiming year-end #1 ranking.

“I think he has an extremely difficult game to play,” Pliskova said. “He will be tough on the turf because of his slice and just his game in general.”

Pliskova observed that Barty was able to push his opponents to “play outrageously”, but that was certainly not the adjective that summed up his semi-final with Kerber: a glamorous duel filled with net-sliding genius, frequently shifting pace and top-notch defense.

Barty and Kerber crouched on the ground, knees sometimes grabbing the field, and 2018 Wimbledon champion Kerber took the lead in the second set before breaking in love 5-3. Barty continued from there, earning the first six points of the tiebreak as Kerber faltered before catching up to earn three straight points. But the boost came too late to keep Barty out of his first Wimbledon singles final.

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure that was going to happen,” Barty said. “I think you have to keep putting yourself in position. I think Wimbledon has been a great learning place for me.”

She won the girls’ title here in 2011 at the age of 15, making it clear that she has the potential to be a star. But while his all-court play looked very grass-fed – skidding backhand, probe serve, sharp volleys – it took him another 10 years to make a serious run in the championship.

In 2018, lost in the third round Daria Kasatkina’s photo. In 2019, weeks after winning it first major singles title He was at the French Open Upset in the fourth round by Alison Riske. Last year, Wimbledon was canceled due to the pandemic.

“Probably 2018 2019 was one of the toughest weeks I’ve ever played,” Barty said. “I learned a lot from these two expeditions. I think often your greatest growth comes from your darkest times. I think that’s why this tournament is so important to me.”

raced the clock effectively retired in the second round Last month at the French Open due to a hip injury.

“Honestly, it would be touch and go,” he said. “Everything had to be in place to give myself the chance to play pain-free and to play knowing that I could trust my body.”

Throughout his career, Barty has sometimes seemed more skilled than brave, prone to big match nerves, but put up a lot of resistance against the resurrected Kerber. Barty smiled before serving the first game and despite making a double mistake at the opening point, he took an early lead and held a high standard.

“I think the biggest thing about these courts is that you have to have adaptability,” he said. “Courts change dramatically from the beginning to the end of the case. Learning how to play and adjust the way you play as the grass changes is an important part. It will be faster. It’s getting harder. It’s also about keeping it simple, just getting there and enjoying the opportunity.”

Barty took a long hiatus that began in 2014 as he struggled to cope with the pressures of constant travel and expectations, leaving the enjoyment of the tour at one stage. He also spent most of 2020 at home in Australia, skipping the US Open and French Open due to the pandemic. But he has embraced a return to competition, even though it meant months away from home due to quarantine restrictions in Australia.

Now only Pliskova stands on her way to becoming Australia’s first Wimbledon women’s singles champion since her mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley won in 1980.

The eighth seeded Pliskova is standing tall. Sabalenka needed to play and serve bravely to counter Thursday’s attack. Sabalenka is perhaps the biggest hitter in women’s game, with a relentless style similar to Serena Williams’s and her first and second serves that are on average faster than some leading men.

However, Pliskova managed to break the serve early in both the second and third sets, and then held the lead despite Sabalenka’s hustle and muscle. Pliskova’s serve wasn’t as fast or staggering as Sabalenka’s, but it was a more effective weapon. He earned more first serve and second serve points than his Belarusian opponent. Together, they tied for the most aces ever recorded in a women’s match at Wimbledon – 32 (18 for Sabalenka, 14 for Pliskova).

Pliskova remains the most successful active female player who has not won a Grand Slam singles title. It was the closest he had come. 2016 US Open1 in the final when he upset Williams before losing to Kerber.

“It’s my second final, I’m playing against a player who is number one for the second time,” Pliskova said of the Saturday game with Barty.

Sascha Bajin, Pliskova’s new coach this season, has a pretty good resume. He worked as Williams’ batting partner for a long time and coached when Naomi won Osaka’s first two Grand Slam singles titles. But she didn’t get the same results as her last employers, and Pliskova has battled to Wimbledon this year, dropping to 13 in the standings. On Monday, he’ll likely re-enter the top 10 as a major champion.

“When we started our partnership together, we weren’t as successful as he wanted or expected,” Bajin told me on Thursday. “You are only measured by the success you have. No matter how nice of a guy I am, funny or not, it won’t keep me around if we don’t get results. I couldn’t be happier right now, but we have another one to go to.”

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