Variety may be the slice of life. It is also, forgive the pun, the slice of tennis. As much as we accord importance to power and strength and foot-speed, the key to tennis is often gears. Players who can offer offense… and defense; players who can serve…. and return; players who can derive…and slice that can adjust the circumstance; players with a variety of options. It not only helps them respond to the styles and strengths (and weakness) of the opponent; it imbues the complete player with confidence knowing the battery of resources they have at their disposal.
That was thrown into sharp relief on Centre Court of Wimbledon today as top-seeded Ashleigh Barty of Australia won her first Wimbledon singles trophy, defeating Karolina Plíšková of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3. This will not go down as classic, but it was a match full of nuance. And ultimately, the player with the great battery of options prevailed.
Initially it looked as though Barty would not walk away with the title, but rather sprint away with it. She won the first 14 points of the match in roughly the time it'll take you to read the sentence. Plíšková might be armed with the best serve in the women’s game, and came into the match having held serve in all but four games this event. But twenty minutes into the match, she had been broken three times by Barty, who effectively blocked returns back in the court and then went about her business of constructing points.
Plíšková, a former No. 11, is not a player often associated with persistence. But in this, the biggest match of her career, she fought back admirably. After upgrading her level to lose the first set “only” 6-3, she leveled the match in the second set, stealing a tiebreaker. But then it was Barty’s turn to show poise. In the decisive third set, she scored an early break of serve and ran out the match 6-3 to become the champion. The stat sheet was testament to her versatility. She had more aces than Plíšková, more breaks of serve, more winners, and won some of her most critical points at the net.
With this title, Barty becomes the first Australian woman since her idol, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, to win Wimbledon. She won the requisite second Major all but guaranteeing her entry into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She solidified her No. 1 ranking she has held for 86 weeks. She wins her fourth title—on three surfaces; again, the versatility—in 2021.
A woman without a country given Australia strict pandemic travel rules, Barty will likely go to the Tokyo Olympics without returning home. It then will be interesting to see how she fares at the fourth Major, the 2021 U.S. Open. Naomi Osaka is the defending champ and has won two titles in New York since 2018. However, if Barty can win on clay and on grass, there's no reason she can't win a Major on hard courts. A third major—and second in this itinerant year—would only burnish her credentials as a generational player. And burnish the importance of variety and versatility in the modern game.
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