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Ash Barty felt right at home as she won the Wimbledon title

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Ash Barty made her intentions known before Wimbledon began.

“One day, I would love to be the champion here,” Barty said late last month, three days before her first-round match. “It’s a dream. It’s a goal.”

A lifelong student of the game, Barty has been enamored by the tradition and history of the event since childhood — since she first picked up a racket, winning the title is what she has most wanted.

In the final at the All England Club against Karolina Pliskova, it all came together.

The 25-year-old Barty put forth a staggering effort from the moment she took the court. She won the first 14 points of the match, and 16 of the first 18 to jump out to a 4-0 lead. It took more than eight minutes for Pliskova to win a point. Pliskova eventually found her level and Barty had to fight even harder, but in the end, she won her second major title following a 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 victory in just under two hours.

The achievement was made even more special, coming on the 50th anniversary of fellow Indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s first Wimbledon title. Throughout the fortnight, Barty had worn a scallop-hemmed skirt in homage to Goolagong Cawley, whom she considers a mentor, and she wanted to carry on her legacy.

“It took me a long time to verbalize the fact that I wanted to dare to dream it and say I wanted to win this incredible tournament,” Barty said on court after the match. “Being able to live out my dream right now with everyone here has made it better than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t sleep a lot last night, I was thinking of the what-ifs, but when I was coming out on this court I felt at home in a way.”

Saturday’s result, of course, would have hardly been a surprise to anyone who watched her win the Wimbledon girls’ title 10 years ago. But Barty’s career has been anything but a straight line since.

After a stellar junior career, the expectations were high once she turned professional but life on tour wasn’t what she expected. Though she reached three major doubles finals before her 18th birthday, she missed her family and her homeland during the week-to-week globetrotting grind.

Burned out and looking for a change, the 18-year-old headed home after the 2014 US Open, and traded her racket for a cricket bat. She took an 18-month break from tennis and played in a professional cricket league in Australia.

Eventually, her love for tennis came back. She started working with Craig Tyzzer, who remains her coach, then made her return in 2016, playing exclusively in ITF events in Australia before turning her sights to the grass and her favorite Grand Slam. She made the quarterfinals (where she faced Pliskova) in her first WTA event in nearly two years at Nottingham, then lost in the second round of qualifying for Wimbledon. She played in just one more tournament that year, but the spark had returned.

She won her first WTA title at the Malaysian Open in March 2017, and played in two more finals that year. Her ranking soared and she cracked the top 20 by year’s end. But her confidence still needed time.

“It’s something that she’s worked on over the years and we’ve identified,” Tyzzer said on Friday. “There have been times when she just questioned herself. … She’s handling that stuff a lot better.

“It’s an ongoing thing. It’s like hitting a forehand and backhand, you just keep working on it, you keep building. She’s getting better and better at those things all the time.”

Tyzzer said Barty wouldn’t have been ready to publicly declare her dream to win Wimbledon in the early years of her return, even following her first major title at the French Open in 2019. But now she was willing to put it out there, knowing she might fail.

In her four previous main draw appearances, she had never made it past the fourth round, but the cancellation of the 2020 tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic reminded her just how much she loves the event.

Despite having to retire during her second-round match at the French Open last month due to a hip injury — something she called “heartbreaking” at the time and said Saturday is normally a two-month recovery process — and not being able to play in any of the lead-in events on grass, Barty was determined to compete at Wimbledon. Her team tried to shield her from the details of her injury to keep her focused.

“Being able to play here at Wimbledon was nothing short of a miracle,” Barty said. “I think them not telling me [the likelihood of being able to play] just proved how much we were against the odds. I think now, to be playing pain-free through this event was incredible. It’s funny, sometimes the stars align, you can think positively, you can plan, and sometimes the stars do align. You can chase after your dreams.”

Barty’s early match dominance was threatened in the second set of Saturday’s final. Pliskova broke Barty in the 12th game of the fiercely contested set to force a tiebreaker and then a decider, the first in the women’s final at Wimbledon since 2012. But Barty left nothing to chance at that point, taking the first three games and closing out the match on serve.

When it was over, she crouched and put her head in her hands as a star-studded crowd, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Tom Cruise, showered her with a standing ovation.

Normally stoic, Barty couldn’t hide her emotions as she climbed to her player box to embrace her team. When she returned to the court for the on-court ceremony, she became the fourth Australian woman to hoist the trophy at Wimbledon, and the first since Goolagong Cawley won her second title in 1980.

“I hope I made Evonne proud,” Barty said on court before stepping away from the microphone as she began to choke up.

She later explained how much Goolagong Cawley has meant to her.

“Evonne is a very special person in my life,” Barty said. “I think she has been iconic in paving a way for young Indigenous youth to believe in their dreams and to chase their dreams. She’s done exactly that for me, as well. I think being able to share that with her and share some pretty special victories now with her, [and] to be able to create my own path is really incredible, really exciting.”

Barty has owned the top spot in the rankings since September 2019. Some questioned the legitimacy of the revised ranking system and her No. 1 status as she opted to skip the remainder of the 2020 season once it resumed, but she has left no doubt now. She’s 2,299 points ahead of No. 2 Naomi Osaka going into the hard-court season and will be a favorite at the upcoming Olympic Games and the US Open.

Wimbledon marks her fourth title, and fifth final, this year. She is now just the third woman to have won multiple Grand Slams since the start of the 2017 season, joining Osaka and Simona Halep, and no one has won more WTA titles during that stretch than Barty with 12.

Barty didn’t talk about her ranking or her place among the sport’s latest superstars on Saturday. She seemed more than content with taking in the moment that had been a long time coming.

“Dreams don’t always come true, but you can fight and do everything you can to give yourself that opportunity,” Barty said ahead of the tournament. “That’s been a lot of my learnings over the last two years as a person, not just as a professional tennis player, but as a person, is putting my hopes and dreams out into the universe and chasing them.” (ESPN)



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What you can learn from Sidath  

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By Rex Clementine  

Cricket selectors in Australia are ruthless.  In certain other parts of the world they are toothless. Steve Waugh had won the World Cup in 1999 and the Ashes two times in 2001 and 2003 when Trevor Hohns, (who had played only seven Tests by the way), called up Waugh and told him that his time was up. Waugh, with a massive fan following, resisted but Hohns made sure that Australia’s most successful captain was neither there for the World Cup defence in 2003 nor for retaining the Ashes in 2005.  

Everything didn’t go well for the Aussies. Under new captain Ricky Ponting they lost the Ashes in 2005 as England regained the urn after 16 years. But Hohns didn’t go after Waugh begging him to fix things. Perseverance in all walks of life is important. In cricket too. Eventually, Ponting turned things around for the Aussies. The next Ashes, Aussies blanked the Poms 5-0. Patience also matters along with perseverance.  

Selectors in our backyard made a hue and cry pinning all faults on Angelo Mathews for repeated failures of the national cricket team. Three weeks later, when the team suffered a first ever series defeat against Bangladesh, they went begging to Mathews asking him to return to the side. Mathews asked them to go and fly a kite.  

There is nothing wrong in trying out younger players and rotating seniors or even dropping them. Even the great Muttiah Muralitharan was dropped. But you have got to do it smoothly with transparency. Burning bridges is not the way. You don’t have to look at Australia as to how it should be done but we have classic examples in our backyard itself. Sidath Wettimuny is the bloke’s name.  

Wettimuny took on bigger players than this. It must have been harder for him for the players he took on were his one-time team mates. But once he had the courage to take on the big boys, he was firm with his decisions. He knew that youth was important but youth who are agile.  

Soon after the axing of Arjuna, Aravinda et al after the disastrous World Cup campaign in 1999, one thing he insisted on was excellence on fielding. So he picked someone by the name of Chamara Silva.  He was just 19 at that time but took on the likes of McGrath and Warne and posted a crucial half-century during the tri-nation tournament that Sri Lanka went onto win, less than two months after Australia had won the World Cup.  

Silva was electric on the field. So was Indika de Saram, who was picked out of the blues. A few months later, he would introduce one T.M.  Dilshan. All superb fielders. Of course there was Sanath Jayasuriya as captain who led the side from the front and he himself was a gun fielder.  

Right now what we have is a young side, but their fielding is so sloppy. They are probably the worst in the world. It is embarrassing to see the young Sri Lankans misfield. The captain has so many players to hide. There is Bhanuka Rajapaksa, there is Kasun Rajitha, there is Lakshan Sandakan and the list goes on. Surely, you expect paid selectors to do a better job. Right now, they have little clue and they have failed to do their home work. In the second ODI, where Sri Lanka snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, they conceded more than 25 runs due to sloppy fielding. 

In 1999, a few months after beating World Champions Australia, Sri Lanka went to Pakistan, one of the toughest places to tour. They whitewashed a strong Pakistan side 3-0 in the ODIs. Wettimuny’s youth policy was working.  The nation was thrilled. Youth was the way forward the fans said. But Wettimuny did not get carried away. He recalled Arjuna and Aravinda for the Tests despite some opposition. Wettimuny knew that in Test match cricket, Pakistan would be a different beast.  

Skipper Jayasuriya could have resisted going back to the seniors but he did not. He let his ego aside and did what was best for the team welcoming both seasoned campaigners back to the fold.  

As expected, Pakistan tested Sri Lanka. It needed a battle hardened Arjuna Ranatunga to bat with a broken thumb to help his team over the line in Rawalpindi. That was one of the classic Test matches that has ever been played. It was made possible by the clever moves of Wettimuny. 

In a time of crisis you need a selector who is calm, responsible and who is not vindictive. This is not the first time the system has been shaken up. It had been done before. But then the risk taking was smart. Now it has been reckless. You need a father figure in this time of crisis to help smooth sailing. Not a bull in a China shop.  And of course, class matters.  

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Sri Lanka’s contingent prior to the opening ceremony

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by Reemus Fernando 

When Sri Lanka’s Olympic contingent were entering the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo yesterday, Nimali Liyanarachchi who could have easily become the country’s flag bearer was taking a seat in the business class for the first time in a long career to take wing from Colombo to Tokyo. On the same flight, Sujith Abeysekara who identified the talent at a very young age and helped her blossom into one of the country’s most successful middle distance runners was seated in the economy class.

It was not long ago that Nimali and fellow track and field athletes slept on the floor during transit on their way to the last pre Olympic competition. The country’s sports authorities have decided to provide five star facilities to Olympic bound athletes and that paved the way for NImali to travel in business class for the first time.

A winner of multiple disciplines at National Level, NImali has represented the country at numerous international competitions. No other athlete in the Sri Lankan contingent in Tokyo has excelled at regional events like the athlete from Sooriyawewa. A gold medalist at the Asian Athletics Championships and South Asian Games, the 32-year-old received a wildcard to the Olympics after Nilani Ratnayake, who was in contention for qualification slid in the world rankings. Before the lack of competitions pulled her down in world rankings Nimali was one of the top three Asians in her discipline.  Though Nimali is a wildcard entrant at the Olympics her fellow track and field athlete at the Olympics, Yupun Abeykoon is not. Abeykoon qualified through world rankings and could be the only athlete who could go beyond the first round. Abeykoon, South Asia’s fastest man and badminton player Niluka Karunaratne are probably the only Sri Lankan athletes who are competition ready as Nimali’s preparation too was hampered due to quarantine procedures following their return from India’s Interstate Championship.

Athletics fraternity was curious yesterday as to why the honour of carrying the country’s flag had not been give to track and field athletes. At the time this story was filed, rooky gymnast Milka Gehani and judoka Chamara Nuwan Dharmawardena were scheduled to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony.

Nearly one third of the countries that took part in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had handed their country’s flag to track and field athletes. Some of them were legends of the sport. Many time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was scheduled to carry the flag of Jamaica at the time this edition went to press. For the first time countries could be represented by two flag bearers at the Olympic Games. Sri Lanka, a country that has won its only Olympic medals in track and field had a gymnast and judoka doing the duty.

Twenty years after Sri Lanka won its last Olympic medal has athletics lost its place as the premier Olympic sport of the country or has other sports come to prominence surpassing track and field as prospective medal winning Olympic sports? It is the first time a gymnast is representing Sri Lanka. She was ranked 114th at the 2019 World Championships but according to NOC, she has received a continental quota spot due to cancellation of the Asian Gymnastic Championship.

Now take a look at Sri Lanka’s track and field athletes. Forget about the two track and field athletes in Tokyo. There are more than half a dozen track and field athletes who were among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines including one who produced the 15th best performance of the world this year. They could not improve their rankings due to lack of opportunities to take part in top ranked Championships.

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Sri Lanka on course for consolation win 

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Avishka Fernando anchored the Sri Lankan innings after the hosts were set a target of 227 to win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday.

 

By Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka looked on course for a consolation win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday as they reached 92 for one at the end of 15 overs chasing a target of 227.  Avishka Fernando gave the hosts a solid start in the dead rubber and was unbeaten on 46 when this edition went to print.

Fernando played some exciting strokes and his pulled six off Navdeep Saini was the shot of the day. It reminded of the power hitting of another Moratuwaite – L.R.D. Mendis.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa was unbeaten on 28.

Spinner Praveen Jayawickrama and Akila Dananjaya came up with outstanding performances picking six wickets between them as India were bowled out for 225 after being 157 for three at one stage. 

Sri Lanka did three changes to the side that lost the second ODI while India came in with six changes handing debuts for five players, virtually playing a third string team.

Sri Lanka’s fielding that was a huge let down during the previous game showed some improvement as they backed up the bowlers to reduce India to 225 in 43.1 overs. 

Dananjaya started off poorly conceding three boundaries in his first three balls on his return to limited overs cricket and exhausted a review too in his very first over. Sri Lanka had indicated that they were going to consider the off-spinner only for T-20 cricket but were forced to bring him back following injury to Wanindu Hasaranga.

Jayawickrama, who had claimed 11 wickets on his Test debut against Bangladesh in May, bowled superbly as he claimed the wickets of three middle order batsmen in his second ODI. With the left-arm spinner striking at regular intervals, India never got any momentum in their innings.

Dananjaya dismissed Suryakumar Yadav when he trapped him leg before wicket and claimed two more wickets towards the tail end of the Indian innings.

Skipper Dasun Shanaka, who had got his act woefully wrong in the previous game, had things very much under control yesterday with some clever bowling changes. He himself sent down eight overs and claimed the key wicket of Prithvi Shaw for 49.

Rain had stopped play for 100 minutes during the Indian innings and the game was reduced to 47 overs.

A win is crucial for Sri Lanka as they would gain ten points in the ICC World Cup Super League.

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