Relentless Brilliance Lifts Halep Into First Wimbledon Final

Simona Halep (photo: AELTC/Joel Marklund)

LONDON, July 11, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Coming into their semifinal showdown at the Wimbledon Championships on Thursday, their first on grass, No. 7 seed Simona Halep of Romania had the edge over Elina Svitolina, who walked out on Centre Court playing in her first major semifinal and the first tour-level grass semifinal of her career. It was unchartered territory for the eighth seed from Odessa, Ukraine, who leaped a hurdle when she beat 68th-ranked Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round.

“Really when I go into Wimbledon, I don’t have any expectations,” Svitolina recently said. “It’s very – not different – but tougher for me to play here before. So I didn’t really play well here before, so I had no expectations going into this tournament.

“It’s just about trying to find my game, try to enjoy. Don’t think too much about what can happen.”

Meanwhile, Halep arrived at Wimbledon on the heels of a disappointing title defense at Roland Garros, where she lost in the quarterfinal round to Amanda Anisimova.

“I saw how it is to lose after you win a title. Nobody died,” Halep said, smiling, after her Tuesday quarterfinal win over Zhang Shuai of China. “I just came here relaxed. I came here motivated to see how good I can be on grass. I’m happy on court. I think this helps me a lot.”

Throughout their one hour and 13 minute semifinal Thursday, Halep swung freely and aggressively. She also covered the entire court with speed and efficiency. These qualities were too much for Svitolina to overcome and Halep won easily, 6-1, 6-3, to advance to her first Wimbledon final as well as her first major final this year – and fifth Grand Slam final overall. She’s also the first Romanian woman to reach the Wimbledon singles final.

In the second semifinal, No. 11 seed Serena Williams from the United States easily powered her way past unseeded Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic, 6-1, 6-2, to set up Saturday’s championship final at Wimbledon.

Halep hit 26 winners against only 16 unforced errors and won five of eight break points against Svitolina. She lost just one point on her serve in the second set.

“It’s an amazing feeling and I’m really excited, but I’m also nervous because of this,” Halep expressed during an interview with the BBC after her win. “It’s one of the best moments of my life. I’m going to enjoy it as much as possible and be happy I can go to the final.”

Both players dug in early, ready for a long afternoon of play. The first game lasted 16 points and Halep saved three break points before holding her serve. The second game, also a 16-pointer that lasted more than eight minutes, went to Halep as she broke Svitolina on her third opportunity for an early 2-0 advantage. Then, Svitolina immediately broke back in a love game, and after 22 minutes the players were on serve.

From there, however, Halep took control as she rode her forehand strokes hard and heavy – producing 17 winners – to win the first set in 43 minutes. It took 10 minutes and six set points – alone – for Halep just to win the last game, but she did. ‪It set a tone for the rest of the match.

The second set was all Halep, who lost only one point on her serve. She broke Svitolina to go ahead 4-3, then capped the final game of the match with another break. Halep closed out the win on her second match-point opportunity.

“It was not as easy as the score shows, because every game was very long and deep,” said Halep, who outpointed Svitolina 68-46. “Elina is an amazing player and always tough to play. I think I played the right tactics against her. I was strong mentally and physically.”

After losing, Svitolina said during her news conference: “It was disappointing. You want to play well, you want to make a statement. … I made too many errors, gave her too many chances.”

Halep credited her experience and positive attitude with helping her succeed. “I’m not giving up anymore. I have learned many things,” she said. “I’m trying to be the best I can be every time I step on the court, to fight to the end. I want to win every match I play.”

After a semifinal run at the All England Club in 2014 and reaching the quarterfinals in two of the last three years, it’s been a pretty solid fortnight for the native of Constanta, Romania, which included a satisfying third-round victory over former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and a win over 15-year-old sensation Cori “Coco” Gauff, which ended the young American’s fairytale run that began in the qualifying draw. After Halep beat Svitolina, it evened their career head-to-head at 4-all.

Halep summed up her feelings and attitude when she said, “I’m still working hard. I’m motivated. I want to win every match I play.”

Williams dominates Strycova

In Thursday’s second semifinal, No. 11 seed Serena Williams overpowered unseeded and 54th-ranked Barbora Strycova of Czech Republic, 6-1, 6-2, to reach her second straight Wimbledon ladies’ singles final and 11th overall.

Throughout their 59-minute Centre Court match, the 37-year-old American and seven-time champion dominated Strycova, who was playing her first major semifinal in her 53rd Grand Slam appearance. Although each came into the semifinal round having dropped just one set, Williams wasted little time in taking the upper hand against her overmatched opponent.

During their 28-minute opening set, Williams broke Strycova to take a a 3-1 lead and increased it to 5-1 with her second break of the Czech’s serve. She wasted little time in closing it out in her next service game with one of her four service aces.

The second set produced much a carbon copy result of the first as Williams broke Strycova in the fifth game and consolidated it for a commanding 4-2 lead. Then, Williams converted another break-point opportunity – her fourth in five tries – to put the match on her racquet, serving for her 32nd career major final. Finally, at 40-30, she closed out the semifinal on her first match-point try with an emphatic forehand winner.

Playing healthy and with a determined look on her face, Williams finished off Strycova with 28 winners. She won 89 percent (24 of 27) of her first serves and controlled the net by winning 13 of 16 opportunities. All facets of her game were in top form. Williams kept Strycova, who won just four points at the net, from being able to effectively serve and volley. By silencing Strycova’s strength, it enabled Williams to easily outpoint her opponent, 54-31, and move into Saturday’s final against No. 7 seed Simona Halep.

“It feels good to be back in the final,” said Williams during a BBC interview after her win. “Every match I know I’m improving. I just needed to feel good. It’s what I do best, which is play tennis.”

With an opportunity to win her eighth Wimbledon ladies singles crown on Saturday, which would tie Margaret Court’s long-standing record of 24 career Grand Slam singles titles, Williams was asked during her post-match interview what motivates her. She didn’t hesitate at all in giving her reply, saying: “I love what I do. I wake up every morning and I get to be fit and I get to play sport and to play in front of big crowds at Wimbledon. Not everyone can do that. I have a great job, I love what I do. I’m still pretty good at what I do, I guess. I just enjoy it. It’s a remarkable experience.”

Before the match, Strycova, 33, was asked if she plans to retire before next year’s Wimbledon. She told reporters that when the time comes, she wants to leave tennis with no regrets.

“I want to enjoy it,” Strycova said. “Tennis gave me so much good stuff, so many memories, emotions and moments that I want to also give it back.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be this year or next year the finish, but I want to finish with the respect for the sport.”

Around the All England Club

Among the many dignitaries sitting in the Royal Box for Thursday’s ladies’ semifinals were: British business magnate and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson, actress Dame Maggie Smith, and singer Sir Cliff Richard. Also, British football great David Beckham and tennis Hall of Famer Jim Courier.

By the numbers

• When she walked out on Centre Court Thursday afternoon, Serena Williams’s 37th major semifinal appearance tied her with Steffi Graf for third place among the most major semifinals. Williams and Graf trail only Chris Evert (52) and Martina Navratilova (44).

• Elina Svitolina is the first woman from Ukraine to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam, a national milestone that saw two Ukrainians – Svitolina and fellow countrywoman Dayana Yastremska – make the second week of Wimbledon for the first time.

• At age 33, Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic is the oldest first-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the Open Era.

• Simona Halep, who won the 2018 French Open, has reached at least one Grand Slam semifinal in five of the past six years (2016 is the only year she was shut out).

What they’re saying

Hall of Famer Kim Clijsters, on on-court coaching: “On-court coaching – I don’t approve. When I played, that was one of the new things, that they wanted people at home to be more interactive with the players and the coaches and know what’s going on in their mind. But I see it as something that’s harming the tour more than it’s helping.” – As told to Simon Briggs, Daily Telegraph tennis correspondent.

What they’re writing

Simon Cambers, tennis writer for The Guardian of London, from “Serena Williams ‘in good place’ before semifinal against Barbora Strycova”: “When Serena Williams was beaten in the third round at the French Open last month, while struggling with a right knee injury, the idea that only a few weeks later she would be on the verge of yet another Wimbledon final seemed unlikely, even for her. But here we are, and the 37-year-old stands one match away from fighting for grand slam title No. 24.”