Riske Earns Just Rewards Against Barty; Upset Of Top Seed Highlights Wimbledon Manic Monday

LONDON, July 8, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Alison Riske had never advanced beyond the third round at the Wimbledon Championships before Monday. However, if anyone could tame Ashleigh Barty, it was the 55th-ranked American from Pittsburgh, Pa., an established grass-court specialist who’s now two-for-two on grass against the World No. 1.

As Manic Monday unfolded on No. 2 Court, the 29-year-old Riske recovered from down a set to beat Barty, the top seed from Australia, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, in one hour and 37 minutes. It lifted her into her first major quarterfinal.

“I’m so excited,” Riske told ESPN during a post-match interview, after earning her first victory over a No.1 player and third Top Five win. “I think ultimately, I’m so proud of myself for the way I handled today’s match. I’ve been ready to battle each day I go out there. I couldn’t be more proud.”

In Tuesday’s quarterfinal round, Riske will face No. 11 seed Serena Williams in a match-up of veteran American players. The 23-time Grand Slam winner, who is in pursuit of her eighth Wimbledon singles title and seeking to equal the 24 Grand Slam singles titles won by Margaret Court, easily advanced over No. 30 seed Carla Suárez Navarro, 6-2, 6-2. Williams, 37, has reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the 14th time in her storied career.

Williams, who had won all six previous encounters against Suárez Navarro in straight sets – losing just 16 games in 12 sets – needed only 63 minutes to maintain her dominance over the Spaniard. The American was solid from both wings, hitting 21 winners while earning 31 of her 60 points on her returns. She broke Suárez Navarro five times.

“Ive definitely had more matches this week than in the past five months – yikes!,” exclaimed Williams during a BBC interview shortly after she left No. 1 Court. “But it’s good. It means I know I can play. I’m feeling better physically, which is a relief more than anything. Finally, I can play tennis.”

Later, in addressing the media during her news conference, Williams, who is also playing mixed doubles with former Wimbledon singles champion Andy Murray, said, “The rust is definitely wearing off. Most of all, I feel confident that I can actually move and I don’t have to go for winners so soon because I’m in pain.

“It’s like, ‘’Oh, now I can just play my game, hit shots, not have to worry about anything else.’ It’s good when your mind is clear and you can just play.”

Riske proud of her fighting spirit

Meanwhile, Riske, who had spent nearly five more hours on court than Barty through the first three rounds – which included comeback wins over No. 22 Donna Vekic and No. 13 Belinda Bencic during the first week – hit 30 winners and converted four of four break-point opportunities against Barty, whose winning streak of 15 matches going back to last month’s French Open – and including a grass-court title at Birmingham – had lifted her to the No. 1 ranking, unseating previous No. 1 Naomi Osaka.

“Getting to the quarterfinals is amazing, but I’m proud of the way I’ve been fighting,” said Riske. “For me, that’s what’s most exciting.

“I haven’t been starting out fantastic in all of my matches, but I knew I had the confidence that if I could manage my service games, I was going to get lucky on her serve. I have a lot of confidence in my return game and that’s pretty much what unfolded. I had to play aggressive – I had to take it to Ash – and I think that’s what I did today.”

With her win over Barty, Riske improved her grass-court record this season to 14-1, which includes two earlier title runs at Surbiton and ‘s-Hertogenbosch. “It really brings out the best in me. Hopefully, it’ll rub off and happen in other places, too,” Riske said, smiling. “I think my game is really well suited for it. I hit a flat ball, I like to come and finish at the net, and I have a great return game. I feel at home here.”

Barty, who began the fourth-round match with three of her 12 aces coming in her first service game, had not lost a set during the London fortnight. In fact, the last set she dropped before Monday came in the semifinals of Roland Garros last month against Amanda Anisimova. However, Barty managed to convert just two break-point opportunities and was hurt by 25 unforced errors. Also, she won just 37 percent (14 of 38) of her second-serve points. Riske closed out the win by taking the final three games against Barty.

“Today wasn’t my day,” said Barty, who lost for just the sixth time this season. “I started out well and struck to my game plan. My serve let me down and I let Alison get back into the match too many times. Overall, I didn’t play a bad match, but Alison played the big moments better. I lost to a good player. …

“I didn’t win a tennis match. It’s not the end of the world. It’s disappointing right now. Give me an hour or so, we’ll be all good. The sun’s still going to come up tomorrow.”

Konta finishes strong, Strycova stays focused

Since reaching the Wimbledon semifinals two years ago, Johanna Konta, 28, of Great Britain has played some of her best tennis – especially in Grand Slams. Against No. 6 seed Petra Kvitova, whom she had beaten only once, Konta rebounded nicely after losing the first set and dominated the rest of their two hour and 25 minute match, winning 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 on Centre Court.

In a one-set winner-take-all, the No. 19 seed Konta came out strong early in the final set and, soon, served for the match at 5-2. She was broken by Kvitova, who came into Monday’s round of 16 match with a 33-9 lifetime record at Wimbledon – including two titles in 2011 and 2014. Then, on her third match-point opportunity three games later, a steady and confident Konta triumphed when the left-handed Kvitova hit a forehand return long of its desired mark.

The two shared a warm embrace at the net and the Centre Court crowd rewarded Konta, whose career win-loss record at Wimbledon improved to 11-7, with thunderous applause. It was Kvitova’s first round of 16 loss in six showings.

Konta overcame 40 winners from Kvitova by hitting 22 of her own while yielding just 21 unforced errors. She broke her opponent’s serve four times and outpointed Kvitova 98-91.

Just happy to still be in the event, to be playing the best players in the world,” Konta told the BBC after beating Kvitova to move into the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the second time. “To come through tough matches against them, you can’t ask for much more as a tennis player.”

Konta will meet unseeded Barbora Strycova of Czech Republic, a surprise 4-6, 5-7, 6-2 winner over No. 21 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium on Court 12. The 54th-ranked Strycova, known more as a doubles specialist (ranked World No. 3), played an aggressive net game that earned for her nearly one-third (30) of the 93 total points she garnered against Mertens.

Strycova, who won 11 of the final 13 games in the match, hit 34 winners and caused her Belgian opponent to commit 32 unforced errors. Strycova’s last Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance was in 2014.

“I’m just empty right now, but it’s a good feeling,” Strycova, smiling, told her press conference gathering. “I felt like (Elise) was nervous and made a lot of mistakes. I tried to focus on putting each ball into play because she was nervous. I was calm inside my body. felt like it was just me and the ball on the court.”

Looking ahead to her quarterfinal match against Konta on Centre Court, the 33-year-old Strycova told the Wimbledon Channel, “Everyone will be against me, but I like to play these kind of matches and I will fight as much as I can.

“If it is my last Wimbledon, I will have the best memories. I will see how I feel after this year. This is my favorite place to be.”

Svitolina, Muchova advance

No. 8 seed Elina Svitolina ousted No. 24 seed Petra Martic, who was overcome by injury, to gain a berth in her first Wimbledon quarterfinal. Svitolina from Ukraine prevailed 6-4, 6-2 over Martic of Croatia in one hour and 49 minutes on No. 3 Court. One of the highlights came during the seventh game of the match that lasted some 15 minutes and stretched to 24 points before Martic won on an unforced forehand error by Svitolina that gave her a 4-3 lead. However, the Ukrainian went on to win 83 percent (38 of 46) of her first-serve points and hit 30 winners. She won nearly half on her 91 total points on her return.

“I came into the tournament with no expectations,” said Svitolina during a post-match interview with the Wimbledon Channel. “However, I’m excited and looking forward to my quarterfinal match. It’s going to be tough, but I think I’m ready for it.”

Svitolina’s quarterfinal opponent will be unseeded Karolina Muchova of Czech Republic. The 22-year-old, who is playing in her first Wimbledon main draw, upset No. 3 seed and countrywoman Karolina Pliskova, 4-6, 7-5, 13-11, in three hours and 17 minutes on No. 2 Court. Muchova, ranked 68th, came from behind and won the final three games. She closed out the match with her 54th winner, a forehand return that hit the net cord and trickled over. Muchova could be seen mouthing the words “I’m sorry” to Pliskova, in reacting to the finish. Regardless, the young Czech was a deserving victor.

With Plikova’s loss, it meant that No. 7 seed Halep is the highest of the four remaining seed among the final eight competitors.

No fairytale ending for Gauff

No. 7 seed Simona Halep ended the Cinderella run of 15-year-old American teenager Cori “Coco” Gauff, 6-3, 6-3, in 74 minutes on No. 1 Court. The 2018 French Open champion advanced to her fourth Wimbledon quarterfinal, which includes a semifinal run in 2014, by playing relaxed and positive against her younger opponent. The No. 313 Gauff, who earlier strung together three straight victories while playing in her first Grand Slam main draw after qualifying – including a first-round upset of five-time Wimbledon singles champion Venus Williams – leaves with no regrets.

Before the match, Gauff said during her press conference following her third-round win Friday that she would remain positive and relaxed against Halep. “I don’t think because she’s seeded will change me at all.”

However, as the round of 16 match developed, Halep adjusted her strategy and started picking on Gauff’s forehand. She broke the teen’s serve to begin the second set and never was in any danger the remainder of the way, winning four of the final five games, to chalk up her 10th win in her last 12 matches. The former No. 1 from Romania hit 17 winners, converted five of 12 break-point chances, and pushed Gauff into hitting 29 unforced errors. Halep outpointed her opponent 68-51.

Gauff, who will move up the rankings ladder to No. 139 following her run, received a standing ovation from the crowd as she exited No. 1 Court. Afterward, she said, “I learned a lot. I learned how to play in front of a big crowd, I learned how to play under pressure. I’m really thankful for the experience.”

Meanwhile, Halep told the BBC during an interview after her win, “I’m very happy I can play again in the quarterfinals of one of my favorite tournaments. To play here is very special. The crowd was very loud. I’m happy I could play one of my best matches.

“I’m trying to give my best every time I step on the court; I want to win every match I play. My main goal is to be happy every match on court.”

Next, Halep will play unseeded Zhang Shuai of China. The 50th-ranked Zhang advanced with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 win over Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine on Court 18. Zhang, 30, won won four of the last five games, and overcame 25 unforced errors by hitting 15 winners and breaking Yastremska five times. The 19-year-old Yastremska committed 44 unforced errors.

“I’m lucky I won the match,” said Zhang during her post-match press conference, “but I see (Dayana) will be a really good player in the future.”

By the numbers

• Despite losing, Ashleigh Barty will stay as World No. 1 when the WTA Rankings are updated next week after Wimbledon. While there were four women who began the Wimbledon fortnight with a chance to overtake Barty, the last one remaining – No. 3 Karolina Pliskova – lost, too.

• At age 15 years and 122 days (at the end of the tournament), Cori “Coco” Gauff is the youngest player to reach the last 16 at a major since Anna Kournikova at the 1996 U.S. Open and the youngest at Wimbledon since Jennifer Capriati in 1991.

What they’re saying

• Alison Riske, who reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal after triumphing against top seed Ashleigh Barty, on her success during this Wimbledon fortnight: “The biggest key for me has been to battle from start to finish in every match I’ve been a part of. … I’ve been there in every moment – looking to impose myself – and I’m really most proud of that and being tough has been the key.”

• Serena Williams on the impact of 15-year-old American sensation Cori “Coco” Gauff: “I think she’s doing everything great. Big fan actually. I am so excited for her. Love her family. I just couldn’t feel more proud.

“I would be wrong to step in right now and give her advice. I think she’s doing great.

“I think there are some 15-year-olds, like me, who wouldn’t know what to do at Wimbledon. Then you have a 15-year-old like Coco who knows what to do. It really depends.

“I think she’s definitely on a different level, so I think she’s totally capable and ready, to be honest. I just think it just depends. Not every 15-year-old is the same.”

What they’re writing

• Simon Cambers, British tennis writer in The Guardian, from “Johanna Konta senses Wimbledon opportunity as she prepares to face Petra Kvitova,”: “Konta has been playing her best tennis since she reached the semifinals here two years ago. Her win against Sloane Stephens in the previous round was testament to her new-found ability to solve problems on the court, to find a second way when her natural game is not working. Against Kvitova, whom she has lost to three times out of four, she will need to defend well and may just need the help of the crowd.

“Some players struggle under the pressure of performing in front of home fans but Konta seems to revel in it. ‘I never looked at it or approached this tournament as a burden, more just another great opportunity for me to do what I love and at home,’ she said.

“‘Not everybody gets a home slam, not everybody gets home events. I am part of a very select few who getthat opportunity, so I can only really be grateful for that.’”

Looking ahead

Tuesday’s quarterfinal round feature a pair of matches on Centre Court (Alison Riske versus Serena Williams followed by Barbora Strycova against Johanna Konta), and a pair on No. 1 Court (Simona Halep against Zhang Shuai followed by Elina Svitolina versus Karolina Muchova). First matches commence on each court at 1 p.m. local time.