No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty continued to reprise her Wimbledon title run at the Western & Southern Open, defeating Angelique Kerber 6-2, 7-5 in one hour and 14 minutes to book her place in the final.
One month ago, Barty had defeated Barbora Krejcikova in the fourth round of SW19 and Kerber in the semifinals en route to lifting her second major trophy. This week, the Australian has repeated both of those results in Cincinnati to extend her 2021 record to 39-7 - a Tour-leading number of match wins. Against Kerber, she found 29 winners to the German's 16, and kept her error tally to 18 compared to her opponent's 21.
The victory moves Barty into her 19th career final, ninth at WTA 1000 level or higher, and a Tour-leading sixth of 2021. She will face either No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova in what would be a repeat of the Wimbledon final, or wildcard Jil Teichmann.
Ashleigh Barty's 2021 finals
d. Garbiñe Muguruza 7-6(3), 6-4, Yarra Valley Classic (February, hard courts)
d. Bianca Andreescu 6-3, 4-0 ret., Miami (April, hard courts)
d. Aryna Sabalenka 3-6, 6-0, 6-3, Stuttgart (April, clay)
l. Aryna Sabalenka 6-0, 3-6, 6-4, Madrid (May, clay)
d. Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3, Wimbledon (July, grass)
???, Cincinnati (August, hard courts)
Key to the match: As in Barty's previous two victories over Krejcikova and Victoria Azarenka, the World No.1 has mastered her opponents through a combination of stellar serving and a knack of rising to the occasion on important points. Though her first serve percentage against Kerber was only 56%, Barty nonetheless fired 12 aces to take her tournament total to 34.
Turning points: The first half of each set comprised a tightly contested passage of play in which little separated the two Grand Slam champions. At 2-2 in the first, the match was evenly poised, with both players having displayed some electrifying tennis. From 0-2 down in the second, Kerber raised her game in stellar fashion to lead by a break at 3-2, and then to cling on valiantly until 5-5.
In both sets, Barty was able to turn a finely balanced situation into a sprint to the finish line. At 3-2 in the first set, she came up with her boldest shotmaking of the day - a blitzed forehand crosscourt followed by a cheeky dropshot return - to break Kerber for the first time. In the second, another exquisite dropshot garnered her the crucial hold for 6-5, whereupon Kerber's forehand collapsed in the final game to leak three errors.
Quotable: "I didn't feel like I did a lot wrong. In the games at 2-0 and 2-1, I felt the overhead, the ball just kept coming and kept coming with the wind and I got a little bit stuck under it. Angie came up with some really good stuff and tough points through that period. Even the same, at 2-2, I felt like I was able to set up points well and then missed the execution with the last little bit.
"That was frustrating me, because I knew that Angie was lifting and I needed to go with her, and not being able to execute the points when I had set them up the way that I wanted to was frustrating. Being able to get that momentum back with the break straight away, then it was a bit of a tug of war. I felt like I was able to build pressure on Angie's games, but we both did a good job of getting out of some tough holds late in that second set.
"I think in the end, with the new balls, just being a little bit more aggressive and taking it on a bit more and trusting myself to actually get after it, and in a way accept if I was going to miss I was going to miss in the right way. I think that, in the end of the second set, was big."
-Ashleigh Barty breaks down a knife-edge second set.