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Wimbledon: Ash Barty aims to end Australian drought vs. Karolina Pliskova

Ash Barty of Australia will attempt to win her second career Grand Slam on Saturday at Wimbledon 2021 in London. Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE
Ash Barty of Australia will attempt to win her second career Grand Slam on Saturday at Wimbledon 2021 in London. Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE

July 9 (UPI) -- Ash Barty will attempt to end a 41-year Australian drought when she takes on Karolina Pliskova in the Wimbledon 2021 women's singles final Saturday in London. She says she'll need to lean on experience and adaptability.

Barty and Pliskova face off for an eighth time at 9 a.m. EDT Saturday at the All England Club. The match airs on ESPN.

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The victor receives nearly $2.4 million, the same first-place prize awarded to the men's singles champion.

"Wimbledon for me has been an amazing place of learning," Barty told reporters Thursday. "Ten years ago, I came here for first time as a junior and learned a lot. 2018 and 2019 were some of my toughest weeks playing and I learned a hell of a lot.

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"A lot of the time, your greatest growth comes from your darkest times"

With a win Saturday, Barty can become the first Australian woman to win the Grand Slam since Evonne Goolagong at Wimbledon 1980.

"I couldn't be more proud to be in a position to wear outfits inspired by [Goolagong] and to give myself a change to create some history, that is in a way a tribute to her," Barty said.

Barty, 25, also will attempt to break a personal drought at the All England Club. She didn't advance past the fourth round in her past seven appearances at the grass court tournament.

Pliskova, ranked No. 13, is a formidable foe. The power server has two wins over Barty in seven career matchups, including one at the 2018 U.S. Open.

"It can't be any better," Pliskova told reporters Thursday. "You want to play the best player in the final. I don't want anyone but her there."

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Barty won her lone Grand Slam at the 2019 French Open. She advanced to at least the fourth round in eight of her last nine Grand Slam appearances.

The Australian hasn't dropped a set at Wimbledon 2021 since her first-round win over Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro.

She scored additional victories over Russian Anna Blinkova, Czechs Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova, Australian Ajla Tomljanovic and Germany's Angelique Kerber to reach her second career Grand Slam final.

Pliskova reached the 2019 Australian Open semifinals, but advanced past the third round just three times in her previous nine Grand Slam appearances. She also faced a world No. 1 (Kerber) in her lone Grand Slam final appearance at the 2016 U.S. Open.

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Pliskova won her first five Wimbledon 2021 matches in straight sets. She knocked off No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in three sets in the semifinals Thursday in London.

History, strengths

Early on in the tournament, top players complained about the slick grass surfaces at the All England Club. Barty noted that the then-lush grass is now packed down due to the dozens of matches played on it over the past two weeks.

The harder ground speeds up play due to faster bounces. Barty, known for her slower tempo, said her ability to adapt to evolved court conditions has been vital for her advancement through the tournament.

"I think being able to understand the difference in how courts play is important, but it's also about keeping it simple," Barty said.

Barty beat Pliskova in three sets in their last match at the Stuttgart Open on April 24 in Stuttgart, Germany. She claimed two victories over the Czech in 2019.

Barty's three-match winning streak came after a straight sets loss to Pliskova at the 2018 U.S. Open. The two split their first four career matchups. Four of their seven meetings were stretched to three sets.

"We've had some good matches," Pliskova said. "I lost a couple times.

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"It's going to be difficult on grass because of her slides and game overall, but it's a final and anything can happen. ... Hopefully it will be a good match to watch, as well. With her, it's always interesting."

Pliskova, 29, showed off her power serve in her semifinal win. She fired 14 of 32 combined aces in the win, setting a record for a Wimbledon women's singles match.

She'll likely need to depend on that serve again to exploit Barty's returns. Pliskova can also lean on her backhands, which she uses with pinpoint control to score points on returns.

Barty, also known for her service game, will likely attempt to exploit Pliskova's movement, which is improved, but not an elite part of her skillset. Barty's arsenal also includes a powerful forehand. Her backhand lacks power, but she still uses it consistently in rallies.

Barty's uses a backhanded slice and various low shots to keep opponents off balance and force errors.

"I have a feeling about her game overall, which is important," Pliskova said. "I don't look if I lost or won [vs. Barty in previous matches].

"She makes you feel a bit ugly with the game she plays. ... She is a really good player. I'm not expecting anything easy, but there will be chances."

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On Friday, top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia beat No. 10 seed Denis Shapovalov in straight sets to advance to the Wimbledon men's final. Djokovic will face seventh-seeded Matteo Berrettini, who beat No. 14 seed Hubert Hurkacz to reach Sunday's final.

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