Ash Barty started her Wimbledon semi-final against Angelique Kerber in the worst possible way but quickly eased her nerves to claim the opening game.
The Aussie double faulted on the first point of the match and went down 15-40. But some clever slice backhands and cracking forehand winners – two of them taken as swinging volleys – saw her save two break points and hold for 1-0.
Kerber then wobbled in her first service game, butchering an overhead smash on break point to allow Barty to thump a winner down the line that earned her a 2-0 advantage, which soon became 3-0. In those first three games, the Queenslander had already scorched five forehand winners.
It was hardly convincing, but Kerber eventually got on the board when she held serve in the fourth game.
The German started to find her groove, particularly from the baseline, but Barty wasn’t letting up. She held to love for 5-2 then Kerber did the same, but she couldn’t claw back a break and the Australian took the first set 6-3.
Barty faces ‘awkward’ issue
Barty is motivated by a higher purpose in this campaign. For it is 50 years ago her fellow Indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley won the first of her two Wimbledon titles.
Barty has worn a specially-designed dress as a tribute to the ‘iconic’ scallop one her “friend and mentor” wore in that 1971 final.
“It’s a really special anniversary for a lot of Australians, but for Indigenous Australians in particular,” said Barty at the outset of her not always convincing campaign.
“I think this is a really special one.”
Barty’s serve has been found wanting at pivotal moments — even her quarter-final opponent Ajla Tomljanovic broke her twice in their second set — but she believes her form is coming together.
“I think obviously play on grass is very different,” she said after her quarter-final. “The grass season for me, it’s one tournament, pretty cut-throat.
“I certainly wasn’t as loose as I have been with errors and kind of ill-timed lapses. But I felt really sharp today.”
Barty, though, knows she will have to move up a gear if she is to see off Kerber.
The 33-year-old German has bounced back to top form after first round exits at both the Australian and French Open.
“I know one of Angie’s greatest assets is the fact that she can run and hunt and put the ball in an awkward situation to nullify my aggression and my weapons at times,” said Barty.
“It’s a really fine balance.”
Kerber, 33, has improved as the Championships have progressed, from earning a five minute standing ovation for her three hour marathon with second round opponent Sara Sorribes Tormo.
The 25th seed has gone on to impressive wins over higher-seeded duo Coco Gauff and then Karolina Muchova.
“I have always in my career had some ups and downs but I was always believing I could come back because I know what I can do,” said Kerber.
Originally published as Barty dishing out brutal tennis beating