Ash Barty wins Wimbledon, first Australian women’s champ in 41 years

Wimbledon 2021 - Day Twelve - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club
Getty Images
1 Comment

WIMBLEDON, England — Everything came so easily for Ash Barty at the start of the Wimbledon final. Hard to believe one player would grab the first 14 points of a major championship match.

Surely, it couldn’t stay that one-sided, right? Of course not.

Still, Barty used that perfect start and a strong-enough finish to get the job done, holding off Karolina Pliskova’s comeback bid to win 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 at the All England Club on Saturday for her second Grand Slam title.

“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. … I didn’t sleep a lot last night. I was thinking of all the ‘What-ifs,’” the No. 1-ranked Barty said. “But I think when I was coming out on this court, I felt at home, in a way.”

She adds this trophy to the one she won at the French Open in 2019.

Barty is the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980. Barty was a teenager when they first met and she considers Goolagong Cawley an inspiration and a mentor.

“Evonne is a very special person in my life,” said Barty, whose outfit was a tribute to the dress Goolagong Cawley wore when she won the tournament for the first time, 50 years ago. “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.”

Barty, 25, was the Wimbledon junior champion a decade ago, then left the tennis tour for nearly two years in 2014 because of burnout. She played professional cricket back home, then eventually returned to her other sport.

Good call.

She was at her best at the beginning of each set against the eighth-seeded Pliskova, a 29-year-old from the Czech Republic with a big serve.

Pliskova dropped to 0-2 in major finals; she also was runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open.

“Horrible start,” said Pliskova, a former No. 1. “That’s why I’m more, like, proud about the way (I found) a way back in that match.”

She trailed by a set and a break in the second, and Barty served for the victory at 6-5.

But Barty sailed consecutive forehands long to get broken, then ceded the tiebreaker with a double-fault.

“She dug deep,” Barty said, “and found a way to claw herself back into the match.”

In the first Wimbledon women’s final to go three sets since 2012, Barty went up 3-0 in the decider and never relented. It also was the first since 1977 between two participants who never had been that far at the All England Club.

With an audience that included Prince William and his wife, Kate, and actor Tom Cruise, the match was played under a cloud-filled sky at Centre Court. Because of the threat of showers, Barty and Pliskova shared a warmup session under the closed roof at No. 1 Court earlier in the day.

They smiled and chatted during the coin toss before the final, but once things got serious, Barty didn’t mess around.

Right from the get-go, there was not a hint of uneasiness or uncertainty. Her strokes were confident. Her demeanor, too. During the match-opening run that put her up 3-0, love-30 and, after Pliskova finally won a couple of points, 4-0 after 11 minutes, Barty showed off her varied skills.

She returned Pliskova’s speedy serves — the ones that produced a tournament-high 54 aces entering Saturday — without any trouble. She lobbed Pliskova, who at 6-foot-1 is 8 inches taller than the 5-foot-5 Barty. She hit winners with heavy topspin forehands and set up others with sliced backhands. She threw in an ace of her own, and even compiled more than Pliskova, 7-6.

“She didn’t really miss much. She played everything super deep,” Pliskova said. “I think it was tough for me to really play my game in that moment.”

The key stat probably was this: Barty won 22 of 31 points that lasted nine strokes or more.

As balls flew past Pliskova, and the murmuring in the full-capacity stands reached a crescendo, she watched with little more than a blank stare. She fiddled with her racket strings as if she’d rather be anywhere else and, indeed, said afterward: “I didn’t feel like I (wanted) to be there.”

Pliskova’s coach, Sascha Bajin, who previously worked with Naomi Osaka and was Serena Williams’ hitting partner, observed the scene with arms crossed.

Pliskova finally got the measure of her strokes in the second set. That could have shaken Barty. Except here’s the thing: She speaks clearly about never letting anything get her too down, including the hip injury that knocked her out of the French Open last month and prevented her from her usual preparation for Wimbledon.

Actually, it wasn’t until after Saturday’s win that Barty’s team told her that hip was much worse than she knew and should have required two months for a full recovery.

And so, with her typical grit, Barty managed to get back to the steadier version of herself down the stretch. When she got a second chance to serve it out, Barty didn’t flinch, even when she had to stare down a break point.

When one last backhand miss from Pliskova ended it, Barty crouched at the baseline and covered her face with her arm.

“Being able to reset at the start of the third was really important, just for me to continue to turn up each and every point,” said Barty, who climbed into the stands to hug her coach, Craig Tyzzer, and others. “That’s all I was really focusing on, just trying to do the best I could every given point, regardless of what the scoreline was.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
Getty
0 Comments

LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
Getty
0 Comments

Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!