The Ladies Singles semi-final line-up was set on Tuesday at Wimbledon and, after the frenzy of Manic Monday, the four quarter-final matches all were decided in straight sets in an almost pedestrian fashion.
One day I would love to be the champion here. It's a dream. It's a goal. Dreams don't always come true, but you can fight and do everything you can to give yourself that opportunity. 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. You can dare to dream, you can try and dream big. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. Ash Barty
Interestingly, there have been 12 players to reach the semi-finals of majors this year on the women’s side, and all those 12 slots have been filled by different players, which goes to show the depth on the WTA Tour these days.
At the French Open a month ago, the four semi-finalists came from outside the top 20 but, here at Wimbledon, we have the top two seeds and two former No 1 players.
World No 1 Ash Barty is finding her stride at just the right time, while Aryna Sabalenka, seeded 2, is striking out, both reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon for the first time in their careers.
For Sabalenka, it is her first semi-final at a major after 14 attempts.
So, it is Barty, Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova, and Sabalenka who are Wimbledon’s Final Four, and they each different pedigrees.
Barty is looking to become the 4th woman in the Open Era to win Wimbledon after having triumphed as a junior here, when she was just 15 and hoisted the girls’ title in 2011.
Pressure proved too much for the humble Queenslander, though, and she walked away from the game in 2014, sick of the travel despite the great success she had with Casey Dellacqua in doubles, and yet to break into the Top 100.
Seven years later, the 25-year-old is the World No 1, in the 5th month of her protracted leave from the comfortable confines of Australia, and two wins from winning the one title she has dreamed of snagging.
“One day I would love to be the champion here,” Barty says. “It’s a dream. It’s a goal. Dreams don’t always come true, but you can fight and do everything you can to give yourself that opportunity.
“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.
“You can dare to dream, you can try and dream big. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that.”
Barty loves tradition, the grass, and is wearing an all-while dress honouring the 50th anniversary of her friend and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s first Wimbledon title.
Against Ajla Tomljanovic, in the first all-Australian quarter-finals match at a major since 1980, she was awesomely efficient and on song, winning 6-1 6-3, with little doubt as to her status.
Barty’s next challenge is Kerber, the 2018 champion who just won her 80th career grass-court match, a tally that sits only behind Serena and Venus Williams among active players.
The German has advanced against the odds to her 4th Wimbledon semi-final, is seeded No 25, which is a testament to just how remarkable her sudden, 3-week run on grass has been.
It was just 3 years ago that Kerber stunned Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final in straight sets to win her 3rd major title, and she finished the 2018 season ranked No 2.
She began to wane thereafter, despite making the 2019 Eastbourne final, where she lost in three sets to Pliskova, and won just 4 matches for the rest of the season.
Coming off last year’s COVID-interrupted season, Kerber struggled for much of 2021, and going into Bad Homburg the week before Wimbledon, she had won just 9 matches this year, and had not beaten a Top 20 player in 2 years.
She left the French Open with a losing match record for 2021 amid murmurs that she was on the verge of retirement.
In winning Bad Homburg, however, her first title since 2018 Wimbledon, Kerber’s 3-set nail-biting win over Petra Kvitova in the final unlocked her best tennis and her indefatigable fighting spirit.
At Wimbledon, it was her 3 hour 19 minute epic against Sara Sorribes Tormo in the 2nd round, a match that pushed her mental and physical resolve to the limit.
The 33-year old continued her mastery of the grass, easily beating Karolína Muchová, 6-2 6-3 to set up her a semi-final date against Barty.
A second Wimbledon title would solidify her as the best grass-court player of her generation, with only Serena and Venus having more Wimbledon semi-final appearances among active players.
Sabalenka mastered the tricky Ons Jabeur in a match of contrasting styles between the crafty Tunisian and the hard-hitting World No 4.
On Tuesday, power trumped guile as Sabalenka simply hit through her opponent and reached the semi-final at a major for the first time, 6-4 6-3, where she will face Karolina Pliskova, a former No 1 player who has most recently fallen on hard times.
Now into her first major semi-final, the biggest question for the Belarusian is whether she can hold her nerve.
In contrast to the other three semi-finalists, this is all new territory for the youngest woman left in the draw.
She has the firepower to blow anyone off the court on any given day, but had only won one match at the All England Club before last week, and that came all the way back in 2017.
With Sabalenka and Pliskova facing off for a spot in their first Wimbledon final, it’s a clash of the two active women who many consider the best players yet to win a major.
Still young at just 23, the same age as Naomi Osaka, Sabalenka confessed her struggles to get past the Round of 16 had weighed on her mind.
“I was struggling on the Grand Slams with all the emotions going through,” Sabalenka said. “After every Slam I was so disappointed [with] myself that I [couldn’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.
“Really happy that here in Wimbledon I’m on 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.”
Pliskova’s semi-final run has come as a surprise to everyone, except the Czech.
Aside from making the Rome final in May, Pliskova’s sub-par results have not matched her own evaluation of her level and, on the first Monday of Wimbledon, her streak of 230 weeks in the Top 10 ended, as she slid to No 13.
“I was five years in Top 10. Then one week I’m not in the Top 10, and it’s like huge drama, especially in my country,” Pliskova said. “I think these things, they just don’t help.
“Players or even [former players], they would usually come and say, ‘What happened there? Why are you not playing that well?’ I think also because of the way I am, I think, people think I can handle a lot, which is maybe true.
“But I don’t need to hear all of this. Usually, I have an answer, but not always [are] you ready for that. You don’t want to hear these things, no matter whether it’s true or not.”
Pliskova is into her 4th major semi-final and, with Wimbledon, became the 28th player in the Open Era to reach the semis of all four Grand Slams.
There isn’t much that that the 29-year old hasn’t accomplished in her career, using her big-hitting, aggressive game at such a consistent level for so many years to win 16 titles across all surfaces, which is more than the other three semi-finalists, and holding the No 1 spot in 2017.
Not bad for a player that wasn’t even considered the best Pliskova as a junior – that would be her twin sister Kristyna – and who many wrote off as either too slow or too one-dimensional so a Wimbledon title would be the Czech’s way of getting the last word.
She has found a second life at SW19 and looked terrific on Tuesday, making quick work of Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, 6-2 6-2 to set up her meeting with Sabalenka in a clash of the titans.