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Angie Kerber and Ash Barty to Meet in the Semi-finals as Fans Bring Wimbledon to Life

By Alix Ramsay

It is the fans who have done it. The thousands who have been allowed in to the grounds of the All England Club have cast some magic spell over the men and women trying to make their way to the final.

After a year and a half of matches played behind closed doors, of fake applause and even virtual audiences (large screens showing punters watching via Zoom, waving and cheering between points – a vaguely spooky sight), real live people are here in SW19 and they are coming in ever-increasing numbers. And the effect has been remarkable.

As Angie Kerber celebrated her 6-2, 6-3 win over Karolina Muchova on Tuesday, a victory that put her through to her first grand slam semi-final since she won here three years ago, she gave the crowds the credit they deserved. After so many months in the doldrums, she had turned her form around in the past three weeks – but how?

“It’s being here and it’s you guys,” she beamed as the faithful clapped and cheered. And she meant it, too. Her form had been on the lousy side of dreadful for most of the season. Then she won the title in Bad Homburg, on grass, and began to feel the confidence rising. Rushing straight from there to Wimbledon, she has fed off the energy of the crowd and started look like the woman who swept all before her in 2018.

“It’s a good feeling already to have the trophy at home and to have won it here,” Kerber said. “Now I’m back. I’m coming after really tough time. I was not playing good the last few months. Now winning, like, last week a tournament at home, now playing well here again, that means a lot to me.

“I never stopped believing in myself, in my team. For me, I love to play tennis and I love this sport, to go out there and playing again in front of the fans. I think this gives me also, like, that push me to playing my best tennis right now.”

Almost every player has made the same point: playing in front of a crowd is what they have missed more than anything. They are all – well, mostly all; Benoit Paire is a notable exception – grateful to have been able to play at all during the pandemic, but it has been a grind. Now, with capacity crowds expected for the men’s and women’s finals, there is a buzz about the place; now the players have a gleam in their eyes.

Unfortunately for Kerber, Ash Barty feels much the same way. She was devastatingly good against Ajla Tomljanovic taking just 66 minutes to reach the last four 6-1, 6-3. She tore her compatriot to shreds with her forehand in the first set and then held her at arm’s length for a handful of games in the second. That was when she engaged another gear and cantered into the semi-finals. But she knows that Kerber, with her wealth of experience at Wimbledon, will be an altogether different challenge.

“I think we’re very different players,” she said. “Everyone is obviously their own unique player. Tactically they manoeuvre their way around the court differently.

But I think I like to try and use my variety as best I can. I like to use my weapons when I can.

“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 kind of my weapons at times. It’s a really fine balance.”

Her quarter-final with Tomljanovic was the first all-Australian quarter-final since 1980 when Evonne Goolagong beat Wendy Turnbull on her way to the final. Once there, she beat Chris Evert to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish for a second time. Unsurprisingly, the folks back home are getting excited at the prospect of Barty emulating her mentor. But does it bother the world No.1? Apparently not.

“I think I’m extremely lucky to get a lot of support all around the world,” she said. “As Australian tennis players, we’re in one of the few countries that are a Grand Slam nation. Without a doubt it adds to the excitement, it adds to the calendar that we do have a tournament in our own backyard.

“For me it’s not a fact of liking it, disliking it, being overwhelmed. It makes it fun. It’s enjoyable. To have people enjoying the tennis with me, with us on the court, makes it all the more fun because I think there are memories on tennis courts. Some are heart breaking and some you never forget.”

If she can find her way past Kerber on Thursday, her memory of Wimbledon 2021 will stay with her forever.