A 22-year-old heads into an all-German quarter-final after an impressive win on Centre Court, downing Britain’s Heather Watson in straight sets, while out on No 1 Court, her next oppoentn, Tatjana Maria, a mother-of-two, upset 12th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko after a marathon 3-setter.
I've taken every match here as a big opportunity, and managed to take advantage of it, until today, but credit to my opponent. I felt like she played really well, especially in that first set. Very flawless tennis. I actually was thinking, at the end of the first set, trying to think of unforced errors she'd hit, and I could only think of two. Heather Watson
“The court is so beautiful, and I feel honoured I had the chance today to play on Centre Court,” said Niemeier, following her 6-2 6-4 dismissal of Watson.
The World No 97 lost in the last round of qualifying at Wimbledon a year ago, and didn’t make her major debut until last month at Roland Garros but, on her Centre Court debut, Niemeier showed no signs of nerves, winning 5 games in a row to win the first set and 6 of the last 8 from 2-0 down in the second to set up an all-German showdown with Maria in the Last 8 after 77 minutes.
“I just want to say sorry that I had to kick out a British player today,” Niemeier told the Centre Court crowd.
Before the action started, though, there was an emotional celebration marking the Centre Court’s 100th anniversary, with a parade of former champions and much nostalgia.
Now with the legends of the sport seated in the Royal Box, Watson and Niemeier took to the court at around 2.30pm in what must have felt an intimidating environment for them both.
“I didn’t want to watch the show before the match because I was pretty nervous, and I saw all the players, so I didn’t want to see it,” Niemeier admitted later. “But of course it’s a special place, it’s one of the biggest courts on Tour.
“The atmosphere was incredible. I was nervous, but as soon as I stepped on the court I felt pretty comfortable. I just tried to focus on my game, tried to focus to play point by point and it went well.
“I’m super proud of myself. Coming out here again and performing, without actually missing that many balls is pretty good, so I’m really happy with my performance today.”
Niemeier, who only cracked the top 100 for the first time in May, had already delivered a huge upset when she knocked out the No 2 seed, Anett Kontaveit from Estonia.
The German began the match as the best returner in the draw at these Championships, and she showed why when she broke the 30-year-old Watson twice on her way to winning the first set.
A big-hitter, Niemeier became the first woman since Karolina Muchova in 2019 to reach the last eight as a main draw debutant.
She used her power to full effect, but also mixed things up with lobs, slices and drop-shots.
“I compare her to Ash Barty. This young lady has a special set of skills and an awkward game,” former World No 1 Tracy Austin said in commentary.
Watson halted her opponent’s momentum and broke serve early in the second set, but Niemeier recovered immediately to keep things on level terms.
The Regensburg resident claimed a crucial break of serve to inch ahead 4-3, but faced a stiff challenge from Watson while serving for the win at 5-4.
A sensational lob from the Brit saved a 2nd match point, but that only delayed the inevitable as Niemeier converted on her 3rd chance to move into the quarter-finals.
Watson, playing a Grand Slam 4th-round for the first time, paid credit to her opponent, saying she played a near perfect opening set.
“Immediately after walking off the court, I was obviously extremely disappointed,” said Watson. “I’ve taken every match here as a big opportunity, and managed to take advantage of it, until today, but credit to my opponent.
“I felt like she played really well, especially in that first set. Very flawless tennis.
“I actually was thinking, at the end of the first set, trying to think of unforced errors she’d hit, and I could only think of two.”
For the first time in 10 years, two Germans will play for semi-final berth at Wimbledon.
Niemeier’s next opponent is her 34-year-old compatriot, Maria, who saved 2 match points in a 3-set defeat of Ostapenko.
Afterwards, Maria paid a tearful tribute to her two children.
“This makes me so proud to be a mum,” the German after recording the biggest victory of her career. “That’s the best thing in the world. I love my two kids. That makes it so special,”
In a match full of drama and violent swings in momentum, Maria, the oldest player in the last 16 of the ladies’ singles, came from a set and 1-4 down, saving match points at 4-5 before going on extend the contest into a decider.
The first time Maria tried to serve out the biggest win of her life, she was broken to love, but she was given another opportunity 2 games later and she took that to complete a 5-7 7-5 7-5 victory over the No.12 seed.
“Oh my god, what an amazing crowd,” Maria said on court. “I said to myself, ‘they believe in me so I believe in me’. I told myself, ‘just keep going’.”
Being on the other side of the net from Ostapenko isn’t easy, especially in sunny conditions when the balls are flying just that little bit faster and there is no rhythm on offer.
Somehow Maria stayed composed, and waited for her opportunities against the dangerous Latvian, whose extreme and relentless aggression brings either big winners or spectacular unforced errors, with very little in between.
Ostapenko was one of only 2 former Grand Slam champions left in the draw, the other being Simona Halep, who won here in 2019.
The 2017 Roland-Garros champion had been threatening to go deep here for the first time since 2018, the year she made the semi-finals at her favourite tournament.
The German, though, has been ranked as high as 46, and won her first Hologic WTA Tour title at Mallorca 2018, as a mother-of-one, her first daughter, Charlotte, having been born in December 2013, and her second, Cecilia, in April 2021.
Maria resumed professional tennis at the end of July last year, and in April this year lifted her second WTA trophy in Bogota.
A contest of opposing styles between Ostapenko’s all-out aggression and Maria’s web of slices and absurd defence resulted in a classic encounter.
Plot twists featured heavily as momentum swung back and forth, with Maria leading 3-1 in the first set, only for Ostapenko to seize control and win 10 of the next 13 games to lead 4-1 in the second.
Maria levelled at 4-4, but superb net play from Ostapenko saw the Latvian halt the run of games against her to hold for 5-4.
She advanced to double match point, thanks to some fearsome returning, only for Maria to stave off both with a one-two punch and a service winner, then, as Ostapenko’s backhand collapsed, the German broke again before firing a pair of aces to force the decider.
Having erased an early break deficit, Maria’s resilience paid off at the climax of the match.
At 4-4, Ostapenko squandered 3 game points with unforced errors, then sent a smash over the baseline down break point, but the former World No 5 hit back in the blink of an eye, firing a series of winners to win the next 6 points.
Ostapenko was unable to see out the hold at 5-5, though, as a clever short return from Maria drew another error down break point, and the unseeded player made no mistake serving for the win a second time.
A service winner sealed her 2nd match point, and a date with her German compatriot Jule Niemeier in the Last 8.
As might have been expected, Ostapenko dominated both the winners and unforced errors stats, tallying 52 and 57 respectively, while Maria came up with 23 winners to 15 unforced errors, but of the latter, 11 came in the first set and, in the second, the German managed to reduce her error total to a remarkable zero, and in the third committed only 4.
Maria’s serve was also crucial as she complemented her soft touch in rallies with formidable power to start the point, firing down 9 aces, including 3 in a row at one point, and conceded only 3 points behind her first delivery in each of the second and third sets.
“There’s always the belief that I can do it,” Maria said. “I mean, that’s why I came back after the first one. It’s why I came back after the second one.
“If not, if I don’t believe I can do these things, then I would not be here. So there’s always this believing and keep going and improving and trying my best at the end.
“It’s also really hard work. It’s not coming from nowhere, let’s say. We are outside on the court every day. We are working.
“Yeah, like I said, we are trying to improve. But maybe in myself there’s this feeling now, OK, I can do it, I can go for it. Sometimes little things can change a whole match. It’s really little parts.”