On the 50th anniversary of Evonne Goolagong Cawley's first Wimbledon title, Ashleigh Barty continued to follow in the Indigenous legend's footsteps.
The No.1 seed Barty reached her first Wimbledon final and second at a Grand Slam on Thursday with a 6-3, 7-6(3) win over 2018 champion and No.25 seed Angelique Kerber in 1 hour and 26 minutes. The Australian struck 38 winners to just 16 unforced errors and reeled off 11 consecutive points to overturn a 3-5 deficit in the second set.
"Yeah, it was incredible," Barty said in press afterward. "It was just almost a moment of relief, a moment of pure excitement. It was something that I'd never, never knew if I would feel. I think being able to have an opportunity to play in a final here at Wimbledon is incredible."
Barty, the 2019 Roland Garros champion, will face Karolina Pliskova in Saturday's final. The No.8-seeded Czech came back from a set down to take out No.2 Aryna Sabalenka 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in Thursday's second semifinal.
Barty and Kerber had not played since 2018, with all four previous meetings taking place on hard courts in either Australia (both won by Kerber) or China (both won by Barty). Their first encounter on grass, particularly with such high stakes, was a fascinating battle of both tactics and execution.
"I think any match in a Grand Slam semifinal, it's going to have to be a very good level," Kerber said. "It's no mistake that people keep working their way through the tournament. The latter stages of the tournament, you understand it's going to be a really tough match regardless of who you're playing and their experience level.
"I think for me today it was about knowing that I could draw on my experiences from my two previous semis, and I think I was able to do that. But Angie is an incredible competitor. She's a great champion. I knew that I had to bring my very best level today to match it with her."
Kerber came into the match with the edge in both experience, having won Wimbledon in 2018 and been runner-up in 2016, and form. The German was on a nine-match winning streak, the third-longest of her career, after breaking a three-year title drought in Bad Homburg a fortnight ago.
"She is really intelligent player and she knows how to play also with her slice, and then she's going forward with her forehand," Kerber said afterward. "She really served well today.
"You see that she has a lot of confidence, that she played a lot of big matches, that she's the No.1 player in the world right now. But for me it was important to give everything I had on court. Yeah, like I said, she had always, like in the important moment, the better answer."
It was Barty, who played no grass warm-ups after being forced to retire in the second round of Roland Garros due to a hip injury, who came out of the blocks sharper. She saved two break points in the first game, then captured the Kerber serve in style with a forehand winner straight off a smash.
Thereafter, Barty maintained the upper hand tactically to protect her lead. With her forehand, she picked the right moments to attack with precision; with her backhand, she reset points repeatedly with her slice, which forced Kerber to generate her own pace rather than work off her opponent's.
There were also moments of wonderful creativity from Barty, such as the fading short sliced winner with which she held for 5-2. Serving for the set, a double fault handed Kerber a brief lifeline - but Barty snuffed it out at net, and went on to seal the opening act with a third ace.
Kerber, a former World No.1, had not found the answers in that set, but rose to the challenge admirably in the second. Extending the rallies to double-digit battles that thrilled the Centre Court crowd, the German turned defence to offence twice in a row to gain a foothold in her opponent's serve, ultimately breaking for 2-0 as Barty sent a forehand wide.
Kerber continued her form through most of that set. Embracing the role of aggressor, she committed to staying on the front foot whenever possible. She also came up with brilliant tennis to save two break-back points and hold for 4-1, the second with a dropshot-pass combination that was one of the highlights of the match.
Leading 5-2, a clean return winner put Kerber two points from the set. But Barty's serving throughout the match was clutch under pressure, and she found consecutive service winners to escape that game. That paid off in the next. Serving for the set, Kerber coughed up two backhand errors, and Barty nailed a perfect pass to level at 5-5.
That passage of play brought the set right back to an equal footing, with forehand winners coming thick and fast off the Barty racquet as a tiebreak ensued.
There, Kerber's level dipped unfortunately. The first six points saw Barty's stellar form continue, with two more forehand winners and an eighth ace of the day, while Kerber contributed her third double fault and a tame netted forehand.
Down 0-6, Kerber roused herself to save the first three match points, but the gap was too large to overcome. A netted backhand on the fourth sealed victory for Barty.
"I wasn't sure if it would ever happen honestly," Barty said. "I think you have to keep putting yourself in the position. I think Wimbledon for me has been an amazing place of learning. I think 10 years ago I came here for the first time as a junior and learned a lot in that week.
"Probably 2018, 2019 was some of my toughest weeks playing. To come away with our losses in those two tournaments, I learned a hell of a lot from those two times.
"I think a lot of the time your greatest growth comes from your darkest times. I think that's why this tournament has been so important to me. I've learned so much with all my experiences, the good, bad, everything in between I've been able to learn from."
Barty becomes first Australian woman to play in the final at SW19 since seven-time major winner Goolagong Cawley won her last Grand Slam title here in 1980. Barty's scallop-hemmed dress this year is a tribute to the trailblazing Goolagong Cawley, the first Indigenous woman to win Wimbledon.
"It's a really special anniversary for Evonne," Barty said. "I couldn't be more proud to be in a position to wear an outfit inspired by her. Now to kind of give myself a chance to create some history almost in a way that's a tribute to her is really exciting. I couldn't be more rapt to have that opportunity on Saturday."