Barty, 25, crouched on the well-worn Centre Court grass and covered her face, overcome by a torrent of emotions, when Pliskova’s final backhand error sealed the victory. When she rose and came to the net to share an embrace with her opponent, the tears were evident. “I hope I’ve made Evonne proud,” Barty said, her voice cracking, during the on-court interview that followed.
Barty competed throughout the tournament in a custom-tailored outfit that paid homage to the scallop-hemmed dress Goolagong Cawley wore in victory 50 years earlier. She also competed with an array of shots and tactics that owed similar debt to the Indigenous Australian sports pioneer, with whom Barty shares a heritage.
“She has been iconic in paving a way for young Indigenous youth to believe in their dreams and to chase their dreams,” Barty said. “She has done exactly that for me as well.”
It was Barty’s second Grand Slam title and the one she has long coveted, having won her first major, the 2019 French Open, on the clay of Roland Garros.
In the early going, the eighth-seeded Pliskova seemingly was frozen by the stage and the stakes of her first Wimbledon final. The 29-year-old had reached a Grand Slam final only once — at the 2016 U.S. Open, where she fell to Angelique Kerber — and had begun to question in the years since whether she would get another shot at a major title.
It was Barty’s first Wimbledon final, too. But the world No. 1 held her nerve better and managed to play the more complete, creative tennis that is her hallmark.
With the most prestigious Grand Slam event canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic last year, Saturday’s match was the first time a Wimbledon final had been held in nearly two years. Britain’s health officials granted the tournament special permission to fill Centre Court to capacity, just shy of 15,000, under a trial program for future easing of pandemic restrictions at large events across the nation.
The Royal Box teemed with luminaries, including four former Wimbledon women’s champions. Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King chatted with William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, while Dame Maggie Smith, who portrayed the formidable Dowager Countess of “Downton Abbey,” surveyed the scene.
Given the stark contrast in styles of the 5-foot-5 Barty and the 6-1 Pliskova, the final got underway amid well-placed hopes of a protracted struggle of high-quality tennis. It was anything but at the outset.
Barty, an exceptional athlete who played professional cricket for a time and is a club champion in golf, is quick and agile with a great variety of weapons — slices, drop shots, lethal cross-court forehands and a textbook serve that rarely misses its mark. Though not as fluent or fluid on grass, Pliskova packs more power in her groundstrokes than Barty and can dictate matches on her serve alone.
To reach the final, both had produced some of the best tennis of their careers, with each conceding only one set in her first six matches. But the moment Pliskova struck her first serve, to start Saturday’s second game, it was clear that nerves were an issue. The ball lumbered over the net nearly 30 mph below her top speed of 116.
She couldn’t bring the full force of her serve to bear, and she moved as if on leaden legs. She lost the first three games at love.
“Horrible start,” Pliskova said, crediting Barty for making it difficult to play her best. “I didn’t feel like I want to be there in the beginning of the match.”
After losing the first 14 points, she said, her mind flashed back to the futility of a recent clay-court final in Rome, where she lost, 6-0, 6-0. “I thought: ‘No, this [cannot] be possible! This cannot happen again!’ ”
When Pliskova finally won a point, the crowd applauded even though it came on a netted backhand by the Australian. But in a matter of minutes, Pliskova trailed 0-4, and an uncomfortable silence fell on Centre Court. To the crowd’s delight, Pliskova settled down and broke serve. Barty’s run of near impeccable shots ended, but she still closed the first set in just 28 minutes.
From there, Pliskova made Barty work, making the second set a genuine tussle and winning the tiebreaker to force a third.
“I don’t have that many experiences to be in the final of Grand Slam, so of course some nerves were there,” Pliskova said. “But I think I did quite good in the end to play a good match.”
When Pliskova’s 32nd unforced error clinched it, Barty’s victory — which came 10 years after she had won the Wimbledon junior girls’ championship — felt better than she could have imagined.
“For Australians, there is such a rich history here at Wimbledon,” she said. “I feel like Wimbledon is where tennis was born, essentially. This is where it all started. This is where so many hopes and dreams were kind of born. ...
“Some of my toughest moments have come at Wimbledon. Now some of my most incredible moments have come here as well.”