The stage is not new to Serena Williams. She has been at this juncture here a staggering 11 times, including last year. When it comes to crunch situations and crucial junctures in a Grand Slam, no one can match her might. Since 1998, Williams has missed Wimbledon just thrice and each time that she's played and come as far, she's gone on to the final. The anomaly being 2000 when she lost to older sibling Venus.
This time she's got another veteran on the other side, Barbora Strycova, a tricky player who can make things tough with her unorthodox shots and powerful net game helped by her lengthy doubles career. Having dropped just one set on her way to the semis, the 33-year-old Czech has knocked out four seeds: No 32 Lesia Tsurenko, No 4 Kiki Bertens, No 21 Elise Mertens (where she came from a set and 2-5 down), and No 19 Johanna Konta to become the oldest first-time Slam semi-finalist in the Open Era.
"She's good on the grass," said Williams of Strycova. "She knows what to do. She has a good all-around game. She's incredibly tricky. It's definitely not easy. But it's something I'm definitely geared up for."
She's managed to mix things up with every two baseline points being interjected by a foray to the net. When she has faced bigger servers, like her next opponent in Serena, she has still managed to make over 86 percent of her returns each time.
Coming into Wimbledon, there were question marks over Serena's fitness — physically as well as competition wise — with her last match being at Roland Garros. She had acknowledged a lack of match practice in Paris after recovering from a knee injury. The concern was whether she could be her usual brilliant self when put under pressure. The answer arrived in her quarter-final win over Alison Riske. The younger American, who prefers grass, brought her A-game against the veteran to force a tight and tense three-setter.
Each time it looked like Serena was running away with the game, Riske would draw back and keep things at even pegging. After breaks back and forth and the score reading 3-3 in the third, Serena swapped to her bun hairdo and if it wasn't clear already, it became even more visible that Serena was going to turn up the tempo now. “I was missing a shot because it’s in my face,” she said. “I was like, ‘this is not happening’. I just needed to get it out of the way, put the business bun up and just get to business.”
Even a double fault at 5-3 was followed by 'That's okay. You got this' and few points later, with an ace, she had the match wrapped up. She turned to her box, with arms raised triumphantly, before a roar and double fist pump followed. She is back, she is unstoppable, she means business.
Their three prior meetings have all come in Grand Slams, have all gone Serena's way and have all been straight setters. They had met at Wimbledon in 2012 in the first round with a comfortable win for Serena back then. Last meeting was in the fourth round of 2017 Australian Open.
"Now (Barb0ra) is at the top of her game," Strycova's coach Lukas Dlouhy said. "Serena is winning everything, but she has days when you can beat her. Hopefully we can find out the way to do it tomorrow."
The other semi-final features the same script: a grand slam champion against a first-time semi-finalist. Both the Romanian and Ukranian had a stiff quarter-final where they found themselves behind before turning things around completely.
Halep trailed China's Zhang Shuai 1-4 in the first set before winning 7-6, 6-1. Svitolina, meanwhile, was a break down in both sets before downing Karolina Muchova 7-5, 6-4.
Last time the Romanian reached this far at Wimbledon, in 2014, she was taken out by Canada's Eugenie Bouchard in straight sets. A lot has transpired since and 'Simo' has acknowledged she has embraced the surface. "I'm a different person," said the 27-year-old Romanian. "Everything changed. I have a lot of experience now. I'm more confident. I love grass. It's first time when I say that."
Williams, who has won 97 matches at Wimbledon as compared to the 68 combined of the other three semi-finalists, is by far the most experienced player in the last four. But there would be concerns over her mental ability to close things out after being outclassed by Angelique Kerber in the final last year and a meltdown at US Open against Naomi Osaka. Though before that she has to circumvent the sliced approach of Strycova.
Updated Date: Jul 11, 2019 09:04:07 IST