World No 1 Ash Barty battled past a ‘hell of a fighter’ in Carla Suárez Navarro on Centre Court on Tuesday and paid tribute to the Spaniard, who was playing her final Wimbledon match, as she claimed a spot in the second round of The Championships.
I think Wimbledon made me a really good gift. I cannot ask for anything else better than this day. One of my last matches here against Ash, No 1 of the world, Centre Court, with the roof. Was amazing. I really enjoy everything I pass through. I think now, today, I am the most happy player in the tournament, for sure. Carla Suarez Navarro
The Australian was made to work hard before sealing a triumphant return to grass with her win after an hour 44 minutes, 6-1 6-7(1) 6-1.
Suárez Navarro will retire at the end of the season, having only recently recovered from Hodgkin lymphoma, and was afforded a special reception by the Centre Court crowd on her final appearance at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
Barty joined them in applauding Suárez Navarro off the court, saying in her on-court interview: “She is a hell of a competitor and hell of a fighter.
“It was a privilege to share the court with her today because I hadn’t had that opportunity to play Carla and it was really special to experience what she can bring from the other side of the court.
“All credit goes to her for her resilience to come back from the adversity she has and be able to have that moment with her was nothing short of remarkable.”
There was no sign of the hip injury that Barty sustained a few weeks ago as play got under way and, despite the 15-minute delay to close the Centre Court roof due to rain during the 4th game of the match, the top seed polished off a break to lead 3-1.
It was an unfortunate time to stop for Suárez Navarro, who came back out defending that break point, but she had little answer to the power of Barty.
Another break occurred soon after and the Australian sealed the opener in 25 minutes to suggest no rustiness after her two-year absence on the grass.
Both were using slices to force errors, but it was Barty who came up with the goods more often in the opener, as she swept to a one-set lead.
A straightforward victory looked on the cards but Suárez Navarro, playing in her 11th Championships, recovered from going a break down in the second to force a break of her own before she played flawless tennis in the tiebreak.
At 5-4, the Spaniard had refused to yield and, after breaking back, dominated the breaker as Barty leaked errors.
“More than anything, it was a great battle,” Barty said. “In the game where I was trying to serve out the match [in the second set], I just missed a few too many first serves and Carla was able to take the game on and hit some incredible returns.
“I think we just kind of accepted that and moved on.”
Barty didn’t let her grip on the match go, though, and she regrouped to pick off the first 13 points of the decider on her way to a commanding 5-0 lead when Suárez Navarro finally put herself on the scoreboard.
At the last, the Spaniard ran out of gas and Barty proved too sturdy as she closed out the match with a forehand winner, and a hug at the net to her valiant opponent.
“A long time off court, so I was a little nervous but, in the second set, I play a really good game and I was enjoying the match,” Suárez Navarro said later. “I was trying to do my best and I know what I have to do to win, but my body is not the same as two years ago and I was tired.”
Barty converted all 5 of the break points she held en route to her opening win, which improves her record to 29-6 for the season as she moves one step closer to a possible first Wimbledon quarter-final.
She needs three more wins before she gets past that hurdle, with her next match being a second-round meeting with Anna Blinkova of Russia, who defeated Hungary’s Timea Babos, 6-2 6-2.
A former Wimbledon junior champion, Barty has yet to get past the 4th round at Wimbledon, and having pulled out of the French Open, where she was champion in 2019, with a hip injury, meant she came into the Championships short of grass court matches.
With Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka absent, however, this seems a perfect opportunity for Barty, who says she is ‘bloody proud’ to be named in Australia’s Olympic squad.
“The body feels great and I feel ready and I am loving every minute,” Barty said.
The stylish and humble Aussie is equally proud to be wearing a special outfit honouring her fellow Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s Wimbledon triumph of 50 years ago.
“The dress is the very least I could do to pay tribute to a great champion and it is a privilege to wear an iconic dress like this,” she said.
Barty, who likes to pay tribute, to acknowledge history and to observe traditions, complimented Suárez Navarro again in her post-match press conference, calling her ‘a hell of a competitor, a hell of a fighter’.
Suárez Navarro recently made her inspiring comeback at Roland Garros, where she lost a 3-setter to Sloane Stephens in the opening round, and has played just 2 pro matches since being diagnosed with cancer shortly before the US Open in 2018.
The Spaniard, who will represent her country in the Olympics at Tokyo lin July, was emotional during the final on-court exchanges on Tuesday, and admitted later that her last day at Wimbledon was perfect.
“I think Wimbledon made me a really good gift,” Suárez Navarro said, during her post-match press conference. “I cannot ask for anything else better than this day.
“One of my last matches here against Ash, No 1 of the world, Centre Court, with the roof. Was amazing. I really enjoy everything I pass through.
“I think now, today, I am the most happy player in the tournament, for sure.
“At the end, it was really nice,” Suárez Navarro continued, reflecting on the ovation she received after her final Wimbledon appearance. “I really appreciate it. The crowd was amazing. I mean, it was fantastic.
“I’m in love with this tournament, this court and this crowd.”
Barty was pleased with her level of performance after her hard-fought win in which she struck 38 winners and 13 aces overall.
Having come through her first match on grass in two years, the 25-year-old said: “To be able to go out there and play the way I did, was really nice, and overall it was a really solid match to start things off.
“It was an opportunity to test myself against someone who has proven it over a massively successful, long career.
“You have to compete at the very best to match with Carla and I felt I was able to go to that level, so overall happy to get a start here at Wimbledon, play a solid match and now we work our way through the tournament the best we can.”
Later in the day, Angelique Kerber, the 2018 Wimbledon champion and No 25 seed this year, opened her campaign with a 6-4 6-3 win over Serbian No 1 Nina Stojanovic under the roof on No 1 Court, coming from a break down in the first set to beat the World No 86 in 84 minutes.
Both have had deep runs on grass in the two-week period between the French Open and Wimbledon, with Stojanovic reaching the semi-finals in Nottingham, where she lost to eventual champion Jo Konta, and Kerber winning the title in Bad Homburg on Saturday.
The Serb started quickly to build a 3-0 lead in the first set, but 5 straight games helped Kerber turn the opening set around.
In all, Kerber won 7 of 8 games from the only deficit she faced in the match but Stojanovic still battled to keep it close, saving break points in both the 3rd and 5th games of the second, while also saving 3 match points in the final game.
“I didn’t know what to expect, actually. I just knew a few things, but she started really well, especially the first few games,” Kerber said.
“She’s really playing really hard and fast, especially the first and second serve. I was trying to staying in the match, focusing on my chances. The last few games, especially the last few points, I was a little bit nervous.
“She plays well, so she was going for it. I just tried to take the match in my hand and going forward. I think it was a solid first round and first match. It’s great to be through.”
Fresh off a run to her 13th career WTA singles title, Kerber high on confidence and, following Serena Williams’ first-round exit due to injury, the German is now the sole major winner left in her quarter of the draw.
“I’m feeling really good, especially with the win on my belt last week coming here to Wimbledon, that gives me for sure a lot of confidence,” Kerber said. “And also playing on grass again, which I love to play. It fits my game.
“Always when you’re working hard, one day it pays off. I was feeling it last week.
“Now I just try to continue this and looking forward to playing every single match, match by match, and playing better and better.
“Always when I’m coming back, I have the pictures in my mind, the memories. And always when somebody is asking me which one was your special moment or this one which you will always remember, it’s for sure the final on the Centre Court here against Serena.
“I’m not really looking back when I start the tournament how I played a few years ago.
“It’s just more the feeling that I won the tournament, I played amazing matches here, and now it’s like a new tournament with new opponents and you have to be ready for every single round.”
She awaits the winner of the first round match between Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo and qualifier Ana Konjuh from Croatia.