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

Wimbledon 2021 - Day Twelve - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club
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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.”

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Olympic flame to travel by sea for Paris 2024, welcomed by armada

Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
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The Olympic flame will travel from Athens to Marseille by ship in spring 2024 to begin the France portion of the torch relay that ends in Paris on July 26, 2024.

The torch relay always begins in the ancient Olympic site of Olympia, Greece, where the sun’s rays light the flame. It will be passed by torch until it reaches Athens.

It will then cross the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Belem, a three-masted ship, “reminiscent of a true Homeric epic,” according to Paris 2024. It will arrive at the Old Port of Marseille, welcomed by an armada of boats.

Marseille is a former Greek colony and the oldest city in France. It will host sailing and some soccer matches during the Paris Olympics.

The full 2024 Olympic torch relay route will be unveiled in May.

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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