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Ashleigh Barty and Karolina Pliskova Restore Order to Women’s Tennis in Wimbledon Final • We Call it the FILA Championship Finals

By: Thomas Cluck

After a French Open women’s final a month ago of largely unknown doubles specialist Barbora Krejickova and perennial-underachieving, yet dangerous, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the pinnacle of tradition in tennis has helped women’s tennis restore order once again with two true heavyweights of the sport facing off on championship Saturday. 

Sure, the Czech Krejickova’s story in Paris was awe-inspiring and shockingly unexpected. And there weren’t many in tennis who weren’t happy that the big-hitting, giant-killing Russian Pavs had FINALLY broken through and done what her talent of a decade-plus had said she should have. But this Wimbledon final between world number one Ashleigh Barty and former world number one Karolina Pliskova is what we all really want. This one will be hard to resist on Centre Court. 

Following a brilliant, superb, and simply sublime Ladies’ Semifinals Day at the All England Club in Southwest London on Thursday that saw the crafty, slice-and-dice, off-pace variety-filled game of Barty overcome 2018 champion Angelique Kerber, the last former champion left in the women’s draw, and the big-serving Czech Pliskova seeming to dig herself out of the rut she’s been in for the better part of three years as the rest of the WTA had passed her by beating one of those players in the fearsome and raw Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka in a three-set serving and hitting contest, both players are ready for Saturday. 

The likeable, cool Aussie Ash Barty, the 2019 Roland Garros winner who won her first major on clay when everyone expected it to come here on the grass, comes in as a slight favorite depending on who you ask over Pliskova, whose lone major final runner-up showing at the 2016 US Open made her a sure-thing for Grand Slam glory down the road, making the storylines in this matchup- filled with contrasting styles- delectable as the chance for a major title, THE title, with a Venus Rosewater Dish and childhood dreams for both on the line. 

In the previous round, Barty outwilled a fellow number one in the German Kerber, a three-time major champion herself, in a match of the highest quality, a common theme for Kerber matches at SW19, slamming the door shut and showing off her competitive side to win in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6, coming back from a break down in the second as Kerber served for the second set to send it to a decider before that extra gear of a champion from Barty saved the day.

After finally getting over her own Grand Slam hump to make the final four, surviving a scare against the home Brit Katie Boulter in three sets, Sabalenka seemed like the big and foreboding threat to win this title, not Pliskova, truly an afterthought up to that point. But Pliskova, with her new hotshot coach Sasha Bajin, after cycling through Jiri Vanek, David Kotyza, Conchita Martinez, and Rennae Stubbs among others, came up with the perfect plan of consistent cross-court big-hitting percentage tennis to outduel the Belarusian in three hard-hitting sets 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. While Sabalenka, usually one of the loudest, most emotional players on tour looked listless, the usually stoic and robotic Pliskova was a vocal presence on court, a sharp departure from previous years of sometimes unmotivated play. 

Returning to the grass courts everyone knew Pliskova’s lanky, rangy body and flat game would one day succeed on, London has proven to be a refresh for the Czech as she’s rediscovered her fearsome serve, formerly the best in women’s tennis with the most aces year after year- dubbed the #AceQueen-, and has been able to overcome her sometimes one-dimensional game and poor movement, two bugaboos that haunted her in previous Grand Slam losses deep in major tournaments. 

Now, she’s a win from her very first major. Pliskova has won on the lawns of the UK before, winning lead-up tournaments previously in Birmingham and Eastbourne in British grass court summer, but never succeeded at Wimbledon. As her experience bears out, the pressure of a Wimbledon final is immense. It’s not just any other tennis court; it’s the world’s greatest tennis court. 

Barty’s toughness cannot be questioned either. The former top junior prodigy who took a break from tennis for years and took up professional cricket back down under, has shown the fortitude to leave her home, native nation and family and friends as her country remains under strict lockdown, traveling basically as a nomad for a year to chase her dreams this time in professional tennis. While other top players struggle and wilt under the pressure and stresses of the spotlight of the top tier of the sport, Barty, a naturally introverted figure, has emerged as a great ambassador for it, showcasing someone who clearly has done the work on herself to be where she is today. 

A massive sporting weekend for England and all of Great Britain will see two compelling figures with great storylines and shared Fila Tennis outfits we may add. That’s where the similarities end. The contrast in styles- just as it was between the two semifinal matches- will be on full display, a contrast Barty has won with a 5-2 head-to-head on tour. Sure, they split grass-court matches in Nottingham in 2012 and 2016, with Barty 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 on the first occasion before Pliskova got her to level 7-6, 7-6 the next time, but that’s so long ago they could be thrown out entirely. 

Ultimately, this is the Wimbledon final. This is what both women have dreamed about since they were kids. Nothing matters anymore. Ready. Play.

Editors Note • This is an all-FILA Final. Bravo to Martin and Marty  Mulligan and all the designers. The men’s and Ladies’ clothes all look awesome.