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Wimbledon 2017, women's semis preview: Venus chases history vs Konta; explosive Muguruza takes on Rybarikova

From 128 to four — the wide-open women’s draw at Wimbledon 2017 has thrown an intriguing semi-final line-up, with familiar and unexpected faces reaching the last-four.

The 37-year-old Venus Williams has won five titles at the lawns of the All England Club, former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza was runner-up here in 2015, and while Britain’s Johanna Konta is the home favourite to win the title, this will only be the second time that she will play in a Grand Slam semi-final.

Along with all these seeds, stand 87th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova, a surprise semi-finalist who is into the second week of a Major for the first time in her career. Here’s a look at how the four semi-finalists performed so far and a preview of their upcoming clashes.

Garbine Muguruza (14) vs Magdalena Rybarikova

Head-to-head: Tied at 2-2 (Rybarikova leads 1-0 on grass)

Magdalena Rybarikova, left, will play in her first Grand Slam semi-final against former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza. AP

Magdalena Rybarikova, left, will play in her first Grand Slam semi-final against former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza. AP

Muguruza’s French Open title in 2016 was expected to be a breakthrough moment for the Spaniard, but she achieved little since then. Muguruza has failed to reach the final of any tournament in the last 12 months, and wasn’t considered as a serious contender due to her inconsistency.

However, over the past 10 days at Wimbledon, Muguruza has shown glimpses of her potential, and has rediscovered some of her best form that helped her reach the finals in 2015. She has dropped the fewest number of games among the four semi-finalists, and has been brutally effective over the last five rounds.

Her three-set win over Angelique Kerber in the last-16 was one of the best matches of the tournament that displayed her full range of power game. Her quarter-final dismantling of Svetlana Kuznetsova in an hour and 15 minutes was a strong statement that she was back to her aggressive best. With the 1994 champion Conchita Martinez in her coaching corner, Muguruza could easily improve on her previous best result at Wimbledon.

Muguruza’s opponent in the semi-final is the unseeded Rybarikova, who has won 19 of her last 20 matches on grass, which includes two ITF titles and a semi-final appearance at Nottingham. Rybarikova ensured that for the 17th Grand Slam in a row, the women’s draw had a first-time semi-finalist — a record that goes as far back as Wimbledon 2013.

Rybarikova knocked out pre-tournament favourite Karolina Pliskova in the second round, and breezed past another big-hitter CoCo Vandeweghe in the quarter-finals.

The Slovakian was out of action for seven months after Wimbledon 2016 due to her surgeries to her left wrist and right knee. She returned to tennis in February this year, and has slowly climbed up the rankings with four titles on the ITF circuit.

Rybarikova has the perfect defensive game to neutralise Muguruza’s powerful groundstrokes. Of their four previous encounters, Rybarikova has won the two on fast surfaces — the indoor courts of Paris in 2013 and on grass at Birmingham in 2015.

Rybarikova’s surprise rise has been the feel-good story of this Wimbledon. She will once again be the underdog on Thursday, but this is a role that she has come to relish over the last six months.

Venus Williams (10) vs Johanna Konta (6)

Head-to-head: Konta leads 3-2 (First meeting on grass)

Johanna Konta, left, will face five-time champion Venus Williams in the Wimbledon semi-finals. AP

Johanna Konta, left, will face five-time champion Venus Williams in the Wimbledon semi-finals. AP

Almost a decade after she last lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish, Venus is aiming to create history by becoming the oldest singles champion in the Open Era. At 37, the American continues to defy the ruthless passage of time, and in the absence of sister Serena, this could be her best shot at winning Grand Slam No 8.

Venus is the only player on the WTA tour to make the second week of the last six Majors. She reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 2016 as well, and was runner-up at the Australian Open in January this year. She continues to find new ways to improve and play more effectively with age — she has added more pace and bite to her second serve over this fortnight and is winning way more free points.

In her last three rounds, she has defeated three upcoming young players born in 1997, the very year that she played her first Grand Slam. While Naomi Osaka and Ana Konjuh were opponents who are still trying to break through on the biggest stage, Venus in the quarter-finals dispatched the most recent Slam champion — the fearless Jelena Ostapenko.

Venus has only improved as the tournament has progressed, and now that she has been cleared of any wrongdoing in a recent car accident, she can now play freely and focus on winning her sixth Wimbledon title. Standing in her way is 28-year-old Konta, the British player carrying the hopes of a nation.

Konta is also aiming to create history, of becoming the first British woman to win the Wimbledon title in four decades. After Andy Murray’s quarter-final exit, the limelight is strained solely on Konta, and the sixth seed will hope that the local support can help carry her all the way to the final.

Konta’s marathon win over Donna Vekic in the second round fuelled the “Kontamania” in Great Britain, and her comeback narrow victory against second seed Simona Halep in the quarter-finals sent the nation into a frenzy. Bookmakers are calling her the favourite to win the title, and it remains to be seen how this late-bloomer responds to such tremendous pressure.

This match is a clash between the two most efficient servers of the tournament — Konta has fired the most number of aces (28), with Venus just behind her at 27. This match will be decided by who returns better on Thursday, and that’s where Venus could hold an advantage. Konta, though, has the better record in the head-to-head, having won three of their previous five matches.

They have split the two times that they have played in 2017, with Venus winning on clay at Rome, and Konta clinching the tie on hard courts at Miami. Venus could surprisingly be the fresher of the two, having spent over three hours less on court than Konta. With personal ambition and sporting milestones on the line, this semi-final promises to be a cracker.

Updated Date: Jul 13, 2017 15:23 PM

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