LONDON, July 9, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Could Alison Riske’s dream go further? After all, she’d beaten the World No. 1 and is getting married in 11 days. When a grass-court specialist gets her mojo going, anything’s possible at the Wimbledon Championships, right?
Unfortunately, the 29-year-old Riske played a determined Serena Williams, who hit a whopping 49 winners and struck 19 service aces – none prettier than the last one – which clinched a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory for the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion in two hours and one minute on Centre Court Tuesday afternoon.
It was Serena’s 97th career victory at Wimbledon, which further established her reputation as one of the greatest grass-court players in history.
Thanks to Riske’s 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 upset of top seed Ashleigh Barty in the round of 16 on Monday, which ended the World No. 1’s 15-match winning streak, the quarterfinal that everyone in the tennis world expected – and wanted – between Barty and Williams never came to fruition.
“I’m here to stay!” the 55th-ranked American from Pittsburgh, Pa., said after her victory over the Aussie Barty, which improved her grass-court record this season to 14-1 – including two titles – and lifted her to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. “The fact that it’s at Wimbledon, my favorite Grand Slam, the place that I had always dreamed to be in the last eight, they can’t kick me out now.”
Instead, Williams, at age 37, arrived in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round as one of four seeds remaining from the original 32, while the unheralded Riske emerged as one of four unseeded players who throughout the fortnight have been “draw busters.” In addition to No. 1 Barty, Riske knocked off the No. 13 seed Belinda Bencic and No. 22 seed Donna Vekic, a pretty good week’s effort. The WTA confirmed that Riske became the first player in the Open Era at Wimbledon Open to play consecutive three-set matches in the first, second, third, fourth and quarterfinal rounds.
With No. 1 Barty, No. 3 Karolina Pliskova and No. 6 Petra Kvitova all falling in the fourth round Monday, it left the 11th-seeded Williams as a favorite of many to win the tournament. She’s won seven Wimbledon singles titles in her illustrious career and an eighth would give her 24 Grand Slam crowns, which would tie Serena with Australian Hall of Famer Margaret Court.
Serena comes through an almighty test…
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) 9. Juli 2019
Against Riske, Williams won the first set 6-4 in 37 minutes, in which neither player was able to hold their serve with any ease. Williams broke her opponent in three consecutive service games and was broken twice. It appeared that Riske’s timing was thrown off by the pace and spin from Serena’s shots, altering her posture from offense to defense. But Riske, who spent nearly four more hours on court than Williams during the first four rounds, rallied in the second set and broke Williams in the ninth game, then held serve to force a decisive set. It was just the second set that Williams had lost during the fortnight and the first since the second round.
When Riske broke Williams in the opening game of final set, there was the thought that she could come back from a set down for a fourth time in The Championships. But it was too early to see the finish line for what would be the greatest triumph of her career. Instead, at 4-3 in the final set, Williams broke when Riske double-faulted on break point. Then, pumped up by the Centre Court crowd, Williams served out the win – finishing with a perfect ace down the T – to advance to her 12th Wimbledon semifinal, She’s won 10 of her previous 11 semifinals with her only blemish coming in 2000 when Serena lost to her older sister, Venus Williams, who won the title that year.
After her win over Riske, Serena Williams told the BBC, “It was really satisfying. I wouldn’t have won that match a couple of weeks ago. Every match here has helped me and has really counted. I’m glad that I was able to come through.
“(Alison) is playing so great – she’s beaten some great players. She was so close to beating me today.
“It’s a long, arduous road – it’s not easy – so I was really pumped. I lost my serve a few times. I’m glad I was able to close it out.
“My experience really counted today. She was playing hard out there, really had nothing to lose. I realized I didn’t either.”
During her news conference, Riske said, “I’m really proud of my effort today. I definitely thought maybe I had a peek here and there at a couple openings, but Serena really upped her level as only a champion would. She won the match. It was really actually very interesting for me to be on the opposite end because I felt her up her game and her intensity.
“I hope she takes the title now.”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 9, 2019
Strycova plays fearless, surprises Konta
Next, Williams will face unseeded, 54th-ranked Barbora Strycova of Czech Republic in Thursday’s semifinals. On Centre Court, Strycova scored a surprising upset No. 19 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, 7-6 (5), 6-1, in one hour and 37 minutes.
Strycova, ranked World No. 3 in doubles, advanced to her first Grand Slam singles semifinal in her 53rd major appearance. In her 16th main draw at Wimbledon, the 33-year-old Strycova played fearless, both early when she was behind and later when she took control of the match.
When Strycova was asked by a BBC interviewer how the words “Congratulations on getting through to the semifinals at Wimbledon” sounded to her, she smiled, then responded: “It sounds crazy, but it’s happening. I can’t really believe it, but I’m happy, and my voice is even shaking now.”
After trailing 0-3, Strycova won 12 of the next 16 games, including a first-set tie-break 7-5, that prevented Konta from reaching the Wimbledon semifinals for the second time in three years. She used her superior volley skills, which included mixing in numerous drop shots, and soon, the unforced errors began to accumulate for Konta. The Briton committed 34 of them to just nine for Strycova. The Czech hit 22 winners and outpointed Konta 72-56.
“I felt like I was playing well,” Strycova said. “She was striking the ball quick and very hard, but I just stuck to my game and tried to mix it a little bit. Once I got into the match, I started to feel better and better. I turned it around.
“I think this was one of the best matches I’ve played here, especially since I’ve not been playing on Centre Court. So, I enjoyed it even more. It was a very special moment for me.”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 9, 2019
Halep advances to second Wimbledon semifinal
No. 7 seed Simona Halep recovered from down 1-4 and rolled to a 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory over unseeded, 50th-ranked Zhang Shuai of China. The win advanced Halep to her second Wimbledon semifinal and first since 2014.
Halep, who is the highest remaining women’s seed, overcame a shaky start and showed her fighting spirit in grabbing the first set in a tie break – taking five of the last seven points – from a surprising Zhang, who came in having beaten Halep in each of their previous two meetings. Halep put a respectable 71 percent of her first serves in play in the opening set and her 12 unforced errors were 10 fewer than her opponent. However, Zhang, 30, hit more winners (18-10) and her tendency to play solid defensively kept her in the match during the early going.
“I definitely fought hard in the first set, even when I was down 4-1. I knew she would come and hit with a lot of power today. I knew I had to play aggressive as much as possible and be strong, and I did great,” said Halep during a BBC interview after her match.
Four different times, Zhang had a break point that would have given her a 5-1 lead and a chance to serve for the first set, but the fighter in Halep didn’t give in.
After ending the fairytale run of Cori “Coco” Gauff in the round of 16 on Monday, Halep came back strong both physically and mentally against Zhang. “I feel fresh, healthy and confident, and I’m playing my best tennis on grass,” she said.
Before 2019, Zhang was winless (0-5) at Wimbledon. This year was a different story. En route to the quarterfinal round, in which she beat former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, Zhang became the first Chinese woman since Li Na in 2013 to reach the final eight. After a career-high of No. 23 in 2016, Zhang will move into the Top 40 following her Wimbledon success.
Unfortunately for Zhang, Halep ended her run with a remarkable turnaround in the second set that saw the Romanian win the final five games of the one hour and 27 minute match on No. 1 Court.
By winning, Halep reached her seventh career major semifinal. She finished with 17 winners, broke her opponent three times, and took advantage of Zhang’s 29 unforced errors. She outpointed Zhang 74-61.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 9, 2019
Svitolina overcomes Muchova
Next, Halep will face No. 8 seed Elina Svitolina from Ukraine, who reached her first major semifinal after defeating unseeded, 68th-ranked ranked Karolina Muchova of Czech Republic, 7-5, 6-4, in one hour and 32 minutes on No. 1 Court.
Svitolina, who had lost four previous major quarterfinal appearances, battled back from down 2-5 in the opening set and ended the exciting debut run of Muchova, 22, that included a three-hour and 17-minute fourth-round win over her countrywoman, No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova on Monday.
In becoming the first from her country to reach a Grand Slam semifinal, Svitolina held off a late run by Muchova and won the final two points of the match with a backhand winner and a forced error to remain alive in the London fortnight.
“(Karolina’s) a very tricky player, I think grass really suits her. I had to fight for every point,” Svitolina told the BBC during a post-match interview.
Svitolina broke Muchova six times in 11 tries, hit 24 winners, and caused the young Czech to hit 31 unforced errors despite Muchova’s dominance at the net, in which she won 71 percent (25 of 35) of her opportunities.
“It’s amazing, my first semifinal for me” said Svitolina, looking ahead to Thursday’s showdown with Halep, whom she owns a 4-3 advantage against. This will be their first meeting on grass and it will be Svitolina’s first opportunity to play on Centre Court.
“I’m really glad it happened here. It’s exciting,” she said. “I’m looking forward to my semifinal match. It’s a great opportunity. I really love the atmosphere.”
Around the All England Club
• Spotted in the front row of Royal Box overlooking Centre Court during the Serena Williams-Alison Riske match was 18-time major golf champion and Hall of Famer Jack Nicklaus. Then, during the Johanna Konta-Barbora Strycova match, the British No. 1 was supported from the Royal Box by members of England’s women’s World Cup team.
• The dream team of Serena Williams and Andy Murray advanced to the mixed doubles round of 16 with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Fabrice Martin of France and Raquel Atawo of the United States on Centre Court.
“I’m having a blast, it’s been really fun. It’s a great atmosphere,” said Williams, interviewed by the BBC after walking off Centre Court. Murray added, “Overall, I think we both played well.”
By the numbers
Coming into the quarterfinal round, not only had Serena Williams has earned more career prize money – $88,856,834 – than the other seven Wimbledon women’s quarterfinalists combined – $72,227,243 – she also had won more matches (96) than the other seven (80).
What they’re writing
Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist, from “Gauff Ran Out Of Magic, But What a Ride” on the surprise run by 15-year-old Cori “Coco” Gauff: “Gauff was catnip at Wimbledon, emerging at a moment when the women’s game is in a fascinating flux and Serena Williams, at 37, is much closer to the end than the beginning as she takes aim at a 24th Grand Slam singles title.
“It is more understandable than usual to wonder what comes next. But Gauff achieved plenty right here in the moment at her first Grand Slam singles tournament. She won three matches in qualifying and three matches in the main draw to become the youngest player since Jennifer Capriati in 1991 to reach the fourth round.”