Ash Barty made her intentions known before Wimbledon began.
“One day, I would love to be the champion here,” Barty said late last month, three days before her first-round match. “It’s a dream. It’s a goal.”
A lifelong student of the game, Barty has been enamored by the tradition and history of the event since childhood — since she first picked up a racket, winning the title is what she has most wanted.
In the final at the All England Club against Karolina Pliskova, it all came together.
The 25-year-old Barty put forth a staggering effort from the moment she took the court. She won the first 14 points of the match, and 16 of the first 18 to jump out to a 4-0 lead. It took more than eight minutes for Pliskova to win a point. Pliskova eventually found her level and Barty had to fight even harder, but in the end, she won her second major title following a 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 victory in just under two hours.
The achievement was made even more special, coming on the 50th anniversary of fellow Indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s first Wimbledon title. Throughout the fortnight, Barty had worn a scallop-hemmed skirt in homage to Goolagong Cawley, whom she considers a mentor, and she wanted to carry on her legacy.
“It took me a long time to verbalize the fact that I wanted to dare to dream it and say I wanted to win this incredible tournament,” Barty said on court after the match. “Being able to live out my dream right now with everyone here has made it better than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t sleep a lot last night, I was thinking of the what-ifs, but when I was coming out on this court I felt at home in a way.”
Saturday’s result, of course, would have hardly been a surprise to anyone who watched her win the Wimbledon girls’ title 10 years ago. But Barty’s career has been anything but a straight line since.
After a stellar junior career, the expectations were high once she turned professional but life on tour wasn’t what she expected. Though she reached three major doubles finals before her 18th birthday, she missed her family and her homeland during the week-to-week globetrotting grind.
Burned out and looking for a change, the 18-year-old headed home after the 2014 US Open, and traded her racket for a cricket bat. She took an 18-month break from tennis and played in a professional cricket league in Australia.
Eventually, her love for tennis came back. She started working with Craig Tyzzer, who remains her coach, then made her return in 2016, playing exclusively in ITF events in Australia before turning her sights to the grass and her favorite Grand Slam. She made the quarterfinals (where she faced Pliskova) in her first WTA event in nearly two years at Nottingham, then lost in the second round of qualifying for Wimbledon. She played in just one more tournament that year, but the spark had returned.
She won her first WTA title at the Malaysian Open in March 2017, and played in two more finals that year. Her ranking soared and she cracked the top 20 by year’s end. But her confidence still needed time.
“It’s something that she’s worked on over the years and we’ve identified,” Tyzzer said on Friday. “There have been times when she just questioned herself. … She’s handling that stuff a lot better.
“It’s an ongoing thing. It’s like hitting a forehand and backhand, you just keep working on it, you keep building. She’s getting better and better at those things all the time.”
Tyzzer said Barty wouldn’t have been ready to publicly declare her dream to win Wimbledon in the early years of her return, even following her first major title at the French Open in 2019. But now she was willing to put it out there, knowing she might fail.
In her four previous main draw appearances, she had never made it past the fourth round, but the cancellation of the 2020 tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic reminded her just how much she loves the event.
Despite having to retire during her second-round match at the French Open last month due to a hip injury — something she called “heartbreaking” at the time and said Saturday is normally a two-month recovery process — and not being able to play in any of the lead-in events on grass, Barty was determined to compete at Wimbledon. Her team tried to shield her from the details of her injury to keep her focused.
“Being able to play here at Wimbledon was nothing short of a miracle,” Barty said. “I think them not telling me [the likelihood of being able to play] just proved how much we were against the odds. I think now, to be playing pain-free through this event was incredible. It’s funny, sometimes the stars align, you can think positively, you can plan, and sometimes the stars do align. You can chase after your dreams.”
Ash Barty celebrates after winning her second Grand Slam and first Wimbledon title.
Barty’s early match dominance was threatened in the second set of Saturday’s final. Pliskova broke Barty in the 12th game of the fiercely contested set to force a tiebreaker and then a decider, the first in the women’s final at Wimbledon since 2012. But Barty left nothing to chance at that point, taking the first three games and closing out the match on serve.
When it was over, she crouched and put her head in her hands as a star-studded crowd, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Tom Cruise, showered her with a standing ovation.
Normally stoic, Barty couldn’t hide her emotions as she climbed to her player box to embrace her team. When she returned to the court for the on-court ceremony, she became the fourth Australian woman to hoist the trophy at Wimbledon, and the first since Goolagong Cawley won her second title in 1980.
“I hope I made Evonne proud,” Barty said on court before stepping away from the microphone as she began to choke up.
She later explained how much Goolagong Cawley has meant to her.
“Evonne is a very special person in my life,” Barty said. “I think she has been iconic in paving a way for young Indigenous youth to believe in their dreams and to chase their dreams. She’s done exactly that for me, as well. I think being able to share that with her and share some pretty special victories now with her, [and] to be able to create my own path is really incredible, really exciting.”
Barty has owned the top spot in the rankings since September 2019. Some questioned the legitimacy of the revised ranking system and her No. 1 status as she opted to skip the remainder of the 2020 season once it resumed, but she has left no doubt now. She’s 2,299 points ahead of No. 2 Naomi Osaka going into the hard-court season and will be a favorite at the upcoming Olympic Games and the US Open.
Wimbledon marks her fourth title, and fifth final, this year. She is now just the third woman to have won multiple Grand Slams since the start of the 2017 season, joining Osaka and Simona Halep, and no one has won more WTA titles during that stretch than Barty with 12.
Barty didn’t talk about her ranking or her place among the sport’s latest superstars on Saturday. She seemed more than content with taking in the moment that had been a long time coming.
“Dreams don’t always come true, but you can fight and do everything you can to give yourself that opportunity,” Barty said ahead of the tournament. “That’s been a lot of my learnings over the last two years as a person, not just as a professional tennis player, but as a person, is putting my hopes and dreams out into the universe and chasing them.”