Aryna Sabalenka, the No 2 seed, justified her status by storming past Ons Jabeur in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon on Tuesday, and proved to herself also that she can play on grass.
I just enjoy everything on this surface. It's actually tough to play on the grass, but I really enjoy every second on the court. It's about everything: about serving, about returning, about moving, about everything actually. The only thing I was thinking about is my game, to stay focused and to fight for every point, for every opportunity I had. Today, it surprised me, but I didn't feel that pressure of being in [a major] quarterfinal for the first time. Aryna Sabalenka
The Belarusian reached her first major semi-final with a 6-4 6-3 win over the tricky Tunisian on Centre Court, keeping her emotions in check and saving 6 of 7 break points while firing 26 winners to set up a last-4 showdown with Czech No 8 seed and former World No 1 Karolina Pliskova.
“I’m really happy with this win, it’s always tough matches against Ons and she’s such a great player and an amazing person, so it’s tough to play against her, and I’m really happy that I could beat her today,” said an elated Sabalenka on court after her victory. “Guys you make this place special, thank you so much for the support.
It was a battle of contrasting games, with Sabalenka using her enormous power against Jabeur’s finesse.
Sabalenka was wary of the Tunisian, who had weaved her web past 3 major champions in Venus Williams, Garbiñe Muguruza and Iga Swiatek, before becoming the first Arab player to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals since 1974.
Also, Jabeur had eliminated the Belarusian from the 2020 Roland-Garros 3rd round in 3 sets, a defeat that sparked Sabalenka into a 15-match winning streak during which she picked up 3 consecutive titles at the tail end of last year.
“After that match, I don’t know, something clicked in my head and I was playing really good tennis, aggressive, I like dominated, Sabalenka said. “That match means a lot for me.”
Entering the quarters, Sabalenka and Jabeur shared the top spot of the WTA’s match-wins leaderboard with 33 victories each and in a quality match that lasted an hour 13-minutes, the No 2 frequently drew gasps of admiration from the Centre Court crowd, awed by her brutal power that kept Jabeur’s creativity on the fly.
Barring a break point on the Sabalenka serve in the opening game, both players were taking care of business rather efficiently in their own service games through the first 9 games.
Serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Jabeur faced her first break points of the contest and in a marathon 10th game that lasted more than 8 minutes, Sabalenka finally broke, and secured the set on her 5th opportunity.
Jabeur’s last two rounds saw her rally back from a set down en route to victory and when the Tunisian went up 0-40 on the Sabalenka serve at the start of the second set, it looked like the comeback was already in motion, but the steely Belarusian saved all 3 break points to hold for 1-0.
The missed opportunities seemed to weigh down on Jabeur, who dropped serve in the next game but struck back immediately to level for 2-2.
Sabalenka kept attacking Jabeur’s second serve and got a crucial break to inch ahead 5-3.
The 23-year-old had to save a break point before closing out the match with a down-the-line backhand winner that wrapped up the 74-minute win.
“I’m happy that from the side it looks like everything is working for me, but sometimes it’s really tricky shots on the grass, it’s sometimes tough to do anything with the ball. But I’m really happy I’m still in the tournament and somehow I found a way to win matches here,” she said.
“This surface is amazing and it fits my game and I’m really enjoying every second on the court,” added Sabalenka, who had won just one match at Wimbledon in her three previous appearances.
Little quarter was given on serve throughout, with Jabeur winning 74% of her first serve points, and Sabalenka 83% of hers; and both landing over 60% of their first deliveries, which made for a series of dominant holds.
“I just enjoy everything on this surface,” Sabalenka said, in her post-match press conference. “It’s actually tough to play on the grass, but I really enjoy every second on the court.
“It’s about everything: about serving, about returning, about moving, about everything actually.”
“The only thing I was thinking about is my game, to stay focused and to fight for every point, for every opportunity I had.
“Today, it surprised me, but I didn’t feel that pressure of being in [a major] quarterfinal 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 great performance for me.”
Next up for Sabalenka will be a semi-final meeting against Pliskova against whom she has won both of her two prior meetings.
Sabalenka said that Pliskova: “She is a great player. She’s moving well right now. She’s hitting balls really solid and serving well.
“It’s going to be a tough match, but I’m really looking forward for this one. As I said in the on-court interview, I’ll do everything I can to win that one. ”
Earlier, the 8th-seeded Czech became the first woman through to the final four at Wimbledon on Tuesday after a comprehensive 6-2 6-2 win over surprise quarter-finalist Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, advancing to the penultimate round at the All-England Club for the first time.
Pliskova never lost serve in 81 minutes on No.1 Court, breaking the Swiss twice in each set and racking up 28 winners to 19 unforced, nearly tripling Golubic’s total of winners, and winning 7 straight games from 2-2 in the first set.
She also hit 8 aces in the match and won 83 percent of the points played behind her first serve.
“Let’s say it was almost perfect. I would find some mistakes for sure,” Pliskova said with a smile, assessing her performance. “But I always do find something. I think I did well.
“I think I did exactly what I needed to do to beat her. I was super focused and just tried to play every point, not to give her that many easy balls because I know she doesn’t really miss much.
“I expected tough match. I lost to her once in Fed Cup. She beat some good players. She was clearly on a run. I knew it’s going to be difficult since the first moment. I think I handled some tough situations. There were a couple of close games which I handled well.
“My serve was extremely good today, I would say. Also the court was hard because it was a bit windy out there today. These conditions are perfect for me. I’m happy about the win.”
Pliskova has now reached the semi-finals at all four Grand Slams, previously doing so at the 2016 US Open, the 2017 French Open and the 2019 Australian Open, and she hasn’t lost a set so far this fortnight.