We have arrived at the final match of the women’s singles tournament at Wimbledon in 2021. While the playing styles of Ash Barty and Karolina Pliskova own various particularities which set them apart from the stars of the past, their meeting on Saturday carries the scent of nostalgia.
Barty versus Pliskova is Australia versus the Czech Republic. It is also a battle of variety versus power. Pliskova doesn’t lack variety and Barty doesn’t lack power, but they depend on their signature virtues to steer them through the thorny segments of a match.
Saturday’s final is therefore a contrast of styles with a Czech-born player involved.
If you look at this match through that particular prism, you can make a connection to nearly every Wimbledon final from 1978 through 1998.
Martina Navratilova became a United States citizen in 1981, but of course, she was born in what is now the Czech Republic. Her Wimbledon finals against anyone other than Zina Garrison (1990) were contrasts in styles. Hana Mandlikova made multiple Wimbledon finals, as did Jana Novotna. For roughly 20 years, a Czech-born player usually reached a Wimbledon final against an opponent with different contours and flourishes in her game. The grass was different back then, as was the racquet technology, but Wimbledon women’s finals with a Czech-born player facing a distinctively different opponent is one of the most familiar scenarios in the Open Era. Venus and Serena Williams represent another deliciously familiar flavor in a Wimbledon final, but that’s SOOOOO 21st century.
Pliskova versus Barty recalls the late 20th century.
What is also classical about this match is an Australian court carver standing on Centre Court in a final.
Evonne Goolagong, a friend and mentor to Barty, won Wimbledon for the first time 50 years ago and for the second time 41 years ago. Her 1980 championship marks the last time an Australian woman has won the singles title at Wimbledon. Goolagong reached five Wimbledon finals. Barty — making her first appearance at age 25 — figures to return to this stage in the future, especially given that the circumstances surrounding this Wimbledon were very challenging. Barty was injured and had to sit out the grass warm-up season. She came to SW19 cold and unpolished. She needed to work her way into this tournament, knowing her form would need time to come back. Getting to this final required a lot of surviving before she started thriving in the semifinals against Angelique Kerber.
The tenacity with which she has fought for the 2021 Wimbledon title is, by itself, a reflection of how badly she wants to win the title Goolagong claimed in the past. Barty has won the French Open, a massive achievement she will surely remember forever. Wimbledon, though, is her childhood dream. Given that generations of older Australians were raised on grass tennis, and that younger generations are educated on the history of the sport — which leads through the lawns of Wimbledon as well as Kooyong (the former site of the Australian Open) — it is no surprise at all that Wimbledon is, for many Australians, the holy grail of tennis achievement. Barty’s connection both to Goolagong and her nation’s storied tennis history places this final in a pleasant garden of nostalgia and memory.
A Czech-born player versus an old-school Australian. This Pliskova-Barty championship match — though featuring a unique matchup which will unfold on its own terms this Saturday — is cut from cloth with deep historical roots in the Open Era of tennis.