Ashleigh Barty lights up Centre Court to down Angelique Kerber and reach Wimbledon final

Ashleigh Barty lights up Centre Court to down Angelique Kerber and reach Wimbledon final
The Australian reaches her first final at SW19 and will play the winner of Aryna Sabalenka vs Karolina Pliskova

Ashleigh Barty’s smile lit up Centre Court as the Australian dazzled on her way past a battle-hardened Angelique Kerber to reach her first Wimbledon final.

It was a match inspired by some of the game’s most illustrious names in the sport’s history, with Steffi Graf’s influence etched into the makeup of three-time Grand Slam winner Kerber.

But if the burden of history weighed heavy on Barty, the Australian’s demeanour did an excellent job at hiding it.

Despite her immense stature in the game as the world’s No 1-ranked player and a former French Open champion, it is this corner of London that has always been Barty’s “dream”.

A Wimbledon final was just one match away, but the significance meant so much more, attached to her idol and friend Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won her first title at the All England Club 50 years ago. The legendary Australian’s title in 1971 was among seven Grand Slam singles titles, with her legacy inspiring Barty’s journey.

And to meet Kerber, specifically, signified a critical arc in her illustrious career. The German famously dispatched the queen of tennis, Serena Williams, three years ago on Centre Court for her third Grand Slam, making this the toughest final hurdle before arriving at the sport’s biggest stage.

Kerber’s hard-fought win in the final of the Sydney Open lit a fire inside Barty three years ago, sparking her dominant run and driving her “to hang tough in brutal moments”.

And this high-quality semi-final conjured up plenty of opportunities to test Barty’s mettle and the validity to those words about revamping her game.

Barty celebrates her win over Kerber

The finesse and creativity of Barty early on saw the 25-year-old capitalise on a nervy start from Kerber, racing clear and clinching the first set 6-3.

But the 33-year-old soon found her range, unleashing an array of devastating ground strokes.

The momentum had swung, with Barty forced to join her opponent in peppering the chalk markings in a candidate for match of the tournament.

But Kerber’s relentless approach was proving too hot to handle and soon earned the lefty a shot to serve out the set at 5-3 and level the match.

But Barty’s resilience shone brightly just as her route to the final started to flicker, breaking to love, with an overhead smash kissing the baseline.

A tie-break soon followed and Barty raced into a 6-0 lead, but there was a brief rally from Kerber, despite a demoralising start.

Kerber went for broke, sensing nothing else to lose, hammering winners on the way to three successive points.

Angelique Kerber of Germany plays a backhand

But in a tribute to Barty’s game and the demands it places on her opponents, Kerber predictably found the net in the subsequent point, handing the Australian victory.

Now one win away from becoming the fourth woman in the Open era to win the singles title after glory as a junior at SW19, Aryna Sabalenka or Karolina Pliskova awaits.

Relief quickly painted all over Barty’s face, hours after catching Australian Rules football in the early hours of this morning.

“That’s the best part about everything,” Barty said after victory. “We laugh every day, we smile every day, sometimes in the heartache, being able to lighten the mood.

Ashleigh Barty of Australia plays a backhand

“Being able to come out and play on a court like this with a crowd like this, there’s nothing better.”