Wimbledon | Maria outlasts Niemeier to reach first Grand Slam semi-final

They play at the same club in Germany but aren’t yet friends, and out on No 1 Court on Tuesday, the knives came out as Tatjana Maria and Jule Niemeier sliced away at each other until, eventually, it was the 34-year old Maria who prevailed over the 22-year old Niemeier, 4-6 6-2 7-5, after a 2 hour 17 minute battle that had the audience completely enthralled.

I knew a little bit this will happen, so I had this in my mind. But, you know, when you are outside on the court, sometimes, it's really hard to change your tactics, and I had to change my tactics a little bit. I'm happy that I could do it. I mean, even that I was 4-2 down in the third set, I kept going and I kept fighting. That's what I did. Tatjana Maria

“It was a really tough match,” Maria said. “It’s always tough to play against a German girl.

“I didn’t know her really well. We never even practiced together. So it was something completely new.

“When I went on the court I was starting pretty nervous. I was really nervous. But, thank God, I came down and I find, a little bit, my game.

“At the end, we had an amazing match. It was amazing how at the end we shaked hands, gave each other a hug, and she was reacting amazing.”

Maria, a mother of two daughters and ranked outside the Top 100, reached a Grand Slam semi-final for the very first time, having never made the second week at a major in 34 attempts in a career that spans over two decades.

She missed Wimbledon last year because she was returning from her maternity break after giving birth to her second child, and she is currently ranked No 103, having hit her career-high of 46 in November 2017 after returning from her first maternity leave in 2014.

Maria served notice of her 2022 form in April, when she captured her 2nd WTA Tour title in Bogota as a qualifier, ranked No 237.

Here, at Wimbledon, she has become somewhat of an escape artist, coming back from 0-3 down in the final set of her 2nd-round encounter with Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, and also saved 2 match points in the 4th-round against Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, the former French Open champion, while, in between, she knocked out 5th-seeded Maria Sakkara from Greece in straight sets for good measure.

Against Niemeier, it was her greatest fight-back, in a battle that few would have dared predict the outcome.

Armed with a vicious, slice forehand, tempered with extraordinary resilience and self-belief, Maria came from 2-4 down in the final set of the all-German contest to snatch the win from her younger opponent.

Jule Niemeier used her all-court game to edge the first set and break in the second, but could not stop Tatjana Maria's momentum

© Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Niemeier, 11 years her junior, had made light work of her debut in the main draw, dropping just one set en route to the quarter-finals in a run that included an emphatic rout of 2nd seed Anett Kontaveit from Estonia, and a relentless serving display against Britain’s Heather Watson.

Niemeier, who can generate effortless pace and has all-round court skills, opted to take on Maria at her own finesse game, while seeking to take control of the net first.

It was effective from the get-go, as she gained the upper hand on Maria’s slice-heavy game, using her powerful groundstrokes together with sojourns to the net to break early in the opening set, and never surrendered that advantage, closing it out 6-4.

The second looked to be following a similar course, with Niemeier breaking an increasingly frustrated Maria in her opening game, but double-faults proved the younger’s un-doing, as she coughed up 11 all told, with her 8th opening the door for Maria to bring up break-back in the very next game.

Maria converted in phenomenal style, pulling off an athletic lunge volley winner, and seized control of the set.

The 34-year-old rallied to take the next 4 games, her forehand now proving a more effective weapon, and as the hot shots continued, set point involved a defensive Maria lob that landed on the baseline, and a Niemeier tweener in response before Maria put away the volley.

“I knew a little bit this will happen, so I had this in my mind,” Maria said. “But, you know, when you are outside on the court, sometimes, it’s really hard to change your tactics, and I had to change my tactics a little bit.

“I’m happy that I could do it. I mean, even that I was 4-2 down in the third set, I kept going and I kept fighting. That’s what I did.”

The two Germans, Tatjana Maria (L) and Jule Niemeier, shared a warm embrace at the end of the competitive quarter-final match

© Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The decider saw Niemeier clean up her double-faults and strike first, breaking for 3-2 after Maria uncharacteristically lost control of both her forehand drive, and her backhand slice, but leading 4-3, Niemeier’s net-rushing flipped from winning strategy to weakness, and 2 volley errors enabled Maria to level proceedings at 4-4.

Now repeatedly drawing gasps from the crowd with her defensive scrambling, Maria seemingly was able to get anything that her racket touched back into play.

She came within 2 points of the match at 5-4 after luring Niemeier into consecutive overhead errors, only for Niemeier to raise her game at net to level at 5-5.

At 5-5, deuce, Maria came out on top of one of the best points of the whole tournament, yanking Niemeier up and down the court with an array of volleys before finding a delicate touch drop-volley for the winner.

She took this momentum into the final game, finding some of her most biting slices to draw errors from Niemeier, who, down match point, made one final serve-and-volley attempt but her netted result put Maria through into an unlikely major semi-final.

The pair shared a warm embrace at the net after Maria, the unlikely underdog, moved into the Last 4.

“I have goosebumps everywhere, ” said Maria, who until this Wimbledon had never gone beyond the third round of a Grand Slam. “That was a tough match. I think today we made Germany proud.

“It’s a dream to live this with my family and my two little girls. Just over a year ago, I gave birth. It’s crazy.

“The court is amazing, the crowd is amazing. It’s such a privilege to play here.”

Tatjana Maria used her serve to great effect against Jule Niemeier on No 1 Court on Tuesday

© Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Maria will face either No 3 seed Ons Jabeur from Tunisia or Czech Marie Bouzkova, with a maiden Grand Slam final on the line for all 3 players.

“Ons is part of my family, she loves my kids, she is playing with them every day,” Maria said.

Maria and Niemeier approached the net 118 times, with Maria winning 29 of her 45 points there, and Niemeier 42 out of 73.

Cheering for Maria in her last 2 matches has been a familiar face this Wimbledon, Jing Robinson, the niece of former WTA player Meilen Tu.

The 10-year-old girl was previously sighted cheering for Harmony Tan, who is co-coached by Tu’s husband Sam Sumyk, all the way to the 4th-round.

“That’s the friend who plays every morning with [my daughter] Charlotte, actually,” said Maria. “They are practicing together every morning. She was supporting Harmony Tan and she’s supporting me.

“Yes, she’s playing good. She’s two years older than my daughter, but they are playing both amazing and they are practicing every day.

“She’s great. I mean, she’s such a nice girl. I hear her all the time. I mean, she’s telling me all the time, ‘Allez, Tatjana, allez. You can do this.’

“It’s so nice for Charlotte, too, to have friends here to enjoy the time outside of the tennis court. So that’s amazing.”



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