Ash Barty, Karolina Pliskova into Wimbledon final

Day Ten: The Championships - Wimbledon 2021
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WIMBLEDON, England — It was difficult for Ash Barty to imagine that a trip to her first Wimbledon final was just around the corner when she stopped playing at last month’s French Open with a hip injury.

Or even when she was two points from being pushed to a third set by Angelique Kerber in their semifinal at the All England Club.

Barty does not let obstacles trouble her for too long. She figures out a way and pushes forward. That’s why she’s ranked No. 1 and it’s why she stands one win from a second Grand Slam title after beating 2018 champion Kerber 6-3, 7-6 (3) on Thursday.

WIMBLEDON DRAWS: Men | Women

“I’ve had ups and downs and everything in between and I wouldn’t change one day or one moment or one, kind of, road that we’ve taken in my path and my journey,” said Barty, who was the 2011 junior champion at the All England Club and stepped away from tennis for almost two years starting in 2014 because of burnout. “It’s been unique. It’s been incredible. It’s been tough. There have been so many things that led to this point.”

Her opponent in Saturday’s final will be No. 8 seed Karolina Pliskova, who emerged from a power-hitting and serving display to come back to defeat No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

“Super proud about the way how I handled the situation out there,” Pliskova said.

Pliskova produced 14 aces, Sabalenka 18, and the combined total was the most in a women’s match at Wimbledon since they started keeping such stats in 1977. The difference in this match, ultimately: Pliskova was broken just once, Sabalenka twice.

After going 0 for 8 on break points in the first set, the first set she dropped in six matches, Pliskova “got a bit frustrated,” she acknowledged afterward.

But she went 1 for 1 in that category in each of the last two sets.

“She just returned like crazy — like, really good — and I couldn’t do anything,” said Sabalenka, the only top-20 seed in the draw without a major quarterfinal appearance until now.

Neither Pliskova — whose coach, Sascha Bajin, used to work with Naomi Osaka and was Serena Williams’ hitting partner — nor Barty had ever been past the fourth round at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.

“Coming into this tournament, the dream was to make the second week. … Sascha was super confident in me,” said Pliskova, a 29-year-old from the Czech Republic who was the runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open to Kerber and used to be ranked No. 1. “He said, ‘I told you, you were going to make the final.’”

The 25-year-old Barty won the 2019 French Open and has been atop the WTA rankings for 1 1/2 years.

She is the first woman from Australia to reach the title match at Wimbledon since Evonne Goolagong won the trophy 1980; Barty has been wearing an outfit intended as a tribute to Goolagong this fortnight.

“Now to kind of give myself a chance to create some history, almost in a way that’s a tribute to her, is really exciting,” Barty said.

She arrived in England not having competed since June 3, when she withdrew during her second-round match in Paris, her left hip in too much pain to continue.

“To be honest, it was going to be touch and go. Everything had to be spot on to give myself a chance to play pain-free and to play knowing that I could trust my body,” Barty said. “If you told me a month ago we’d be sitting in this position, I really wouldn’t have thought that we would even get close.”

On Thursday, she faced a big test in the second set, which Kerber was two points from owning when Barty served at deuce while trailing 5-2. The full-capacity crowd was backing the comeback effort for the 33-year-old German, too, with shouts of “Come on, Angie!” and “Go on, Kerber!”

But Barty steeled herself to hold there, then broke to get within 5-4 with a cross-court forehand passing winner.

That was part of a 38-16 advantage in total winners for Barty, responsible more than anything else for her triumph. And this was remarkable: She compiled that many point-ending shots while making only 16 unforced errors.

“A great level, the best level I’ve played in quite some time,” Barty said. “Angie is an incredible competitor. She brought out the best in me today.”

It was a rather entertaining and, from point to point, rather even contest, two talented baseliners willing to try a volley, drop shot or lob when required. They were each other’s equal for long exchanges — in all, 22 points lasted at least nine strokes, with Kerber winning a dozen.

Their approaches are different, though. Kerber is a left-hander who hits flat groundstrokes and is just fine with handling foes’ low shots, often dropping a knee onto the turf to get leverage.

Barty is a righty who relies on heavy topspin for a forehand packed with power, and her slice backhand can produce tricky bounces on the grass.

She ended up with an 8-0 edge in aces and 18-9 in forehand winners.

“I was trying to playing my game,” Kerber said. “But she had always a good answer.”

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Joel Embiid gains U.S. citizenship, mum on Olympic nationality

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Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid said he is now a U.S. citizen and it’s way too early to think about what nation he would represent at the Olympics.

“I just want to be healthy and win a championship and go from there,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

Embiid, 28, was born in Cameroon and has never competed in a major international tournament. In July, he gained French nationality, a step toward being able to represent that nation at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In the spring, French media reported that Embiid started the process to become eligible to represent France in international basketball, quoting national team general manager Boris Diaw.

Embiid was second in NBA MVP voting this season behind Serbian Nikola Jokic. He was the All-NBA second team center.

What nation Embiid represents could have a major impact on the Paris Games.

In Tokyo, a French team led by another center, Rudy Gobert, handed the U.S. its first Olympic defeat since 2004. That was in group play. The Americans then beat the French in the gold-medal game 87-82.

That France team had five NBA players to the U.S.’ 12: Nicolas BatumEvan FournierTimothe Luwawu-CabarrotFrank Ntilikina and Gobert.

Anthony Davis, who skipped the Tokyo Olympics, is the lone U.S. center to make an All-NBA team in the last five seasons. In that time, Embiid made four All-NBA second teams and Gobert made three All-NBA third teams.

No Olympic team other than the U.S. has ever had two reigning All-NBA players on its roster.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

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Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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