WASHINGTON, July 12, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Decimated by a slew of upsets that wiped out the Top 10 seeds by the end of the fourth round of this glorious fortnight, the 2018 Wimbledon Championships women’s draw came down to the last four players standing on Centre Court Thursday, each with a big goal still in sight.
In one semifinal, No. 11 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany and No. 12 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia had never faced each other. With a nine-year difference in their ages – Kerber is 30 and Ostapenko is 21 – they are from different tennis generations. But both are former Grand Slam champions on the mend with something to prove.
In the other semifinal, No. 13 Julia Goerges of Germany, who at age 29 finally reached the final four of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career, was matched against arguably the greatest women’s player of all time, 23-time major champion Serena Williams. Playing in her second Grand Slam since she gave birth to her first child last September, Williams was seeded 25th by Wimbledon following her maternity leave in lieu of her current world ranking of No. 181. She came in as the most experienced of the last four having won seven Wimbledon singles championships.
Only two would advance to Saturday’s final. As if happened, it’s 2016 all over again as Kerber and Williams, who faced each other two years ago in Williams’ last Wimbledon final won by Serena, 7-5, 6-3, emerged victorious. Both won impressively.
On Centre Court first at 1 o’clock was Kerber and Ostapenko, a match on paper that seemed like it could go the distance. Instead, it ended very swiftly – in just 67 minutes – and it was all in Kerber’s favor, 6-3, 6-3. The German reached her fourth Grand Slam final and second in three years at Wimbledon.
Whether chasing after loose balls to keep a rally alive or landing angles with her solid forehand returns, Kerber is looking like she did 24 months ago when she was the No. 1 player in the world. She played great tennis – far from looking nervous – and she moved about the court with much quickness and agility.
“I’m so proud to be back in a Grand Slam final at Wimbledon,” Kerber told the BBC following her victory. “I was trying to move well and take my chances, as Jelena is always hitting the ball so hard. She fights until the last point, so you must win that last one. I tried to stay focused on each point.”
During their semifinal, Ostapenko, who hadn’t lost a set all tournament, started and finished the opening set with the symmetry of a double fault. The match began to shift at 3-all as Kerber used her experience to control the tempo while Ostapenko tried to hit big on every return. Ever the puncher, metaphorically, Ostapenko hit 18 winners, but she was also erratic as she committed 19 unforced errors. Meanwhile, playing the role of a boxing counterpuncher, Kerber got the most out of her six winners and hit just two unforced errors.
Then, Kerber continued with what worked for her in the next set. She broke Ostapenko in the Latvian’s first service game and jumped to a 3-0 lead at the start of the second set by controlling the pace and winning the majority of the points. At times, it seemed like Ostapenko didn’t want to be out there competing on Centre Court for a place in the finals. She had hit a mental brick wall and nothing seemed to be working for her. She played with fear instead of showing confidence.
By the time Ostapenko hit her 34th unforced error off an easy forehand return, Kerber had her fourth break of serve and an insurmountable 5-1 lead to boot, with the match on her racket. Briefly, Ostapenko fought back – even saved a match point with a fantastic backhand winner – and gained her first service break on her third break point of the game to remain alive. Then, she held her own serve with the possibility of getting even with another service break. However, Kerber wrapped up the match and booked her place in the final by holding her own ground. She won when Ostapenko hit an errant forehand wide.
Although Kerber outpointed Ostapenko 71-55 and hit just 10 winners to her opponent’s 30, a telling stat was this: Kerber made just seven unforced errors while Ostapenko committed 36.
#Wimbledon final spot booked in 67 minutes
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) 12. Juli 2018
“I will try and to play as I have in my last matches here, focusing on my own game,” Kerber said during her post-match gathering with the media. “To be here again has been a goal, to play well in the Grand Slams. To reach the finals again is a great feeling. Now, there’s one match to go.
“Wimbledon is a really special place. Winning this tournament would be really special for me.”
Kerber, the only woman to have reached the quarterfinals or better at all three Grand Slams this year, will face Williams, who has played like a top-seeded player through each of her first six matches.
Williams beat the big-hitting Goerges, 6-2, 6-4. The 29-year-old German, who had never been this deep in a Grand Slam in singles and had lost in the first round at Wimbledon in each of the previous five years, was outmatched from the beginning of the 70-minute final.
Just two months shy of turning 37 – and playing in just her fourth tournament of 2018 – Williams played with a timeless quality. It seemed everything went her way save for one wobble when she was broken serving for the match in the ninth game of the second set.
Williams was near perfect in winning 87 percent (27 of 31) of her first-serve opportunities. She lost just 14 points on her serve, was broken just once and hit 16 winners that were offset by seven unforced errors. Although Goerges hit more winners than Williams, amassing 20 of them, she also committed more unforced errors, too, finishing with 11. Williams outpointed Goerges, 60-40.
After securing match point, Williams paused for a moment at the baseline to soak in the appreciation of winning and the plaudits of the crowd who cheered for her before going to the net to shake hands with Goerges.
“And @serenawilliams is *still* the queen of Centre Court”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) 12. Juli 2018
“I don’t even know how to feel because I didn’t expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back in 16 months,” said Williams during her post-match interview with the BBC. “I just feel when I don’t have anything to lose I can play so free and that’s kind of what I’m doing.
“I didn’t expect to play this well so quickly into my comeback. It’s not inevitable for me to be playing like this. I had multiple surgeries and nearly didn’t make it when I gave birth. I’m enjoying the moment.”
• If Serena Williams beats Angelique Kerber in Saturday’s women’s singles final, Williams will tie Margaret Court for the all-time record for Grand Slam singles titles with 24.
What they’re saying
• During a conversation after the first semifinal match on BBC One, Hall of Fame great Billie Jean King told presenter Sue Barker that Angelique Kerber’s win was all about experience. “A decade between them. Jelena Ostapenko is young. She plays young. Too many errors.”
• “You create your own luck and everything was bouncing Serena’s way,” said Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova, commenting on the Serena Williams-Julia Goerges match for the BBC. Added Tracy Austin, another Hall of Fame champion, “Julia was overwhelmed by Serena.”
Friday’s men’s semifinals / Centre Court
• No. 8 seed Kevin Anderson, South Africa, vs. No. 9 John Isner, United States, 1 p.m.
• No. 12 seed Novak Djokovic, Serbia, vs. No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal, Spain.