The women’s Wimbledon semi-final line-up will see top seed Ashleigh Barty face former champion Angelique Kerber, while Aryna Sabalenka goes up against Karolina Pliskova. Who will make it into Saturday’s final?
Barty has looked every inch a potential Wimbledon champion after blasting her way into the semi-finals for the first time, but she will be wary of 2018 Wimbledon champion Kerber, who has continued a dramatic turnaround in form to set up a blockbuster contest.
Sabalenka has struggled to match her form on the WTA tour at the Grand Slams, but it has all come together for the Belarusian at the All England Club as she prepares to face Pliskova, who came into Wimbledon under the radar after a disappointing season.
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Barty, who won the French Open in 2019, has not had to face a top 10 player en route to the semi-finals this year, but 25th-ranked Kerber on grass should be a match fans in Australia will want to stay up for in the early hours of Friday morning.
“I feel good. I think obviously playing on grass is very different. It’s a different surface,” explained Barty.
“The clay season was quite long. As for the grass season for me, it’s one tournament, pretty cut-throat. I think it’s about allowing myself time to feel relaxed on the court, to learn about the surface, to continue to kind of find my rhythm and find my groove on the grass.”
“It’s not scary or overwhelming, it’s just exciting,” added Barty. “It’s exciting to have the challenge of playing someone who is comfortable on these courts, who knows how to win this tournament.”
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Success at the Bad Homburg Open last month earned Kerber a first title in two years after exits at the 2021 Australian Open and French Open in round one had extended her poor Slam run since victory at the All England Club three years ago.
Kerber said: “The last few months it was really tough and I was not being able to get the results I was actually looking for but also for everyone the last few months were not so easy.
“For me, I was never stopping believing in myself and my team. I love to play tennis and love this sport to go out and play in front of the fans, I think this gives me also that push for me to play my best tennis right now.
“I have always in my career had some up and downs but I was always believing I could come back because I know what I can do. The belief, yeah I never stopped to believe in myself how I can play.”
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It will be a first meeting between Barty and Kerber at a Slam while also a maiden battle on grass.
It’s a new experience for the Australian, who had previously only made the last eight on two occasions – but not for the German.
Kerber first made the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2012 before she lost out to Serena Williams in the final four years later and avenged that defeat to claim the title in 2018.
“The experience that I had a few years ago, I played twice the finals here and I try to take the experience with me,” the left-hander added.
“It is a good feeling already to have the trophy at home and to have won it here. I think it is more about this tournament for me because when I was a kid I really looked forward to playing this tournament and playing my best tennis here.”
Sabalenka hopes she has found the formula for Slam success after admitting she was finding it difficult not to put too much pressure on herself to break through the fourth-round barrier.
“The only thing I was thinking about is my game, to stay focused and to fight for every point, for every opportunity I had,” said the 23-year-old, who is the youngest player through to the last four.
“Today it surprised me but I didn’t feel that pressure of being in the quarter-final for the first time. I was just enjoying the atmosphere and enjoying my game, just doing everything I can to win this match. So it was a great performance for me.”
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Victory over Pliskova in the last four would see Sabalenka overtake Naomi Osaka to become No 2 in the world. She has won more matches than any other woman in 2021 but the Slams had become a real roadblock.
“I was struggling at the Grand Slams with all the emotions (I was) going through,” she said. “After every slam I was so disappointed about myself that I can’t handle this pressure.
“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’m really happy that here in Wimbledon I’m in the second week, 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.”
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Sabalenka’s opponent Pliskova had failed to get past the fourth round at any Slam since reaching the last four at the Australian Open in 2019.
She suffered a humiliating double bagel in the Rome final to Iga Swiatek before losing her first match at Eastbourne last month which saw her drop out of the top 10 for the first time in five years.
She admitted negative comments had got to her, saying: “Not that I would really read all the messages and all the comments, but sometimes you just see something or some articles. I think they can be quite brutal.
“I was five years in the top 10. Then one week I’m not in the top 10 and it’s like huge drama, especially in my country. I think these things, they just don’t help.”
She has now made the semi-finals at all of the Grand Slams, and said: “It means a lot, of course. Especially after not really having many good weeks before Wimbledon, it feels like a dream a bit.
“I believed at some point I will find my game. I’m just happy it worked out well in these two weeks. Of course, it was my last Grand Slam missing the semi-final, so I’m happy now I have all of them.”
Semis babyy #Wimbledon pic.twitter.com/nbH4iRaETt
The Czech is now ready for second seed Sabalenka in what will be a hard-hitting clash, saying: “It was almost perfect. I would find some mistakes for sure.
“I think I did well. I think I did exactly what I needed to do to beat her. I was super focused and just trying to play every point, not to give her that many easy balls because I know she doesn’t really miss much. My serve was extremely good today. These conditions are perfect for me.”
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