Quartet in champion form primed for Wimbledon showdowns

 - Alex Sharp

The women’s semi-finals at Wimbledon are of the highest calibre, including three players who have topped the rankings.

Aryna Sabalenka Wimbledon 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Earlier this summer the Roland-Garros women’s semi-finals presented the land of opportunity, with four competitors breaking new ground in the Grand Slam gauntlet. Over to Wimbledon there is a star billing to the final four, with No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka joined by three players who have reached the peak of the rankings. 

Thursday at the All England Club should be a real treat.

“For women's tennis right now, I think there's such a big chance for everyone. Doesn't matter which tournament, you have to be ready from the first round,” declared the rejuvenated three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber.

“I think it's also good for the crowd to see three No.1 players. Sabalenka is No.2 seeded. I think it's really interesting to see that. I'm really happy that I'm one of the four.”

2018 Wimbledon winner Kerber will duel with world No.1 Ash Barty for a final ticket. 

The Australian has been in imperious form at SW19, but is taking nothing for granted, banishing any complacency from the conversation.

“This is my dream. I'm in an extremely fortunate position that I'm getting to do what I love, getting to do what I dreamt as a kid. So, I think I've just got a whole lot of gratitude, the world, the way we're living at the moment, I think it's incredible that we're able to play, compete, have people enjoy it with us,” insisted the top seed, ahead of a maiden semi-final at Wimbledon. “It's not scary or overwhelming, it's just exciting.”

Their head-to-head is tied as two apiece, however, Barty casts it as “irrelevant” as they haven’t taken to court together since 2018. The Queenslander is very aware of what to expect from the calibre of Kerber. 

“Angie obviously has an incredible record here. She's made multiple finals. She's one of the best grass courters going around,” added Barty. “She doesn't give you cheapies. She competes for every single point. She's won Grand Slams. She knows how to hang tough in brutal moments.

“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 my weapons at times.”

Confidence is coursing through Kerber having lifted the Bad Homburg trophy just prior to Wimbledon, where the ridiculous defence and counter punching have been in overdrive. A difficult and fruitless season thus far is now a distant memory. 

“I was never stopping believing in myself, in my team. 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 push me to playing my best tennis right now,” stated the 33-year-old, boosted by memories in south-London.

“I have always in my career some up and downs. I was always believing that I can come back because I know what I can.

“Of course, it's a good feeling already to have the trophy at home and to won it here. Now winning last week a tournament at home, now playing well here again, that means a lot to me.”

No.2 Sabalenka had been shackled by the mental fortitude required for a deep major run, finally edging past the fourth round stage this fortnight.

Patience and persistence have been rewarded.

“I was struggling on the Grand Slams with all emotions going through. After every slam I was so disappointed about myself that I can't handle this pressure,” admitted the world No.4, tasked to face Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals. 

“I actually thought that I will never make it to the second week. We worked a lot with my psychologist and with my coach. I kept fighting. Really happy that I’m still in the tournament, and I still have this opportunity to win a slam. I will do everything I can to reach my goal.”

The 23-year-old claimed both previous clashes with Pliskova, including a three-set thriller on grass at Eastbourne 2018. 

However, for the Czech, it’s a chance to re-write the narrative, just like Kerber reversing a period of patchy results to soar back into major contention. 

“Of course, in the beginning of the tournament everybody talks, you have so much different opinions which comes to you. It's really tough to believe that you can do well, especially if the weeks before were not so good,” claimed for the former world No.1, who has now reached at least the semi-finals at all four majors.

“I was five years in top 10. Then one week I'm not in top 10, and it's like huge drama, especially in my country. I think these things, they just don't help. I'm just happy I managed somehow to stay out of this in my own bubble, just trust it.”

The 29-year-old arrives in the semi-finals without dropping a set, dictating with her immense power and feel. It’s going to be the battle of firepower facing Sabalenka. 

“It's going to be big match because she goes for big, big shots, big game, big serve. I think there's not going to be much time to think about what should I do, what should I not do. Just quick decisions,” mused Pliskova. “But I believe I also have a game which can bother her a bit. Big serve. I need to play fast, just put pressure on her.”

Get ready for a fast and furious final four.