Barbora Strycova: Unlikely Wimbledon Semifinalist Has Nothing To Lose

LONDON, July 10, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

At 5-foot-5, Barbora Strycova is a fighter on the tennis court. While her sense of anticipation and soft touch that comes from being one of the best doubles players in the world make up for her lack of height, Strycova’s game is ideal for grass, and she’s got the heart of a champion.

“I’m not really a patient person,” Strycova, a native of Plzen, in the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, said Tuesday after she dismantled British No. 1 and 19th seed Johanna Konta from Great Britain, 7-6 (5), 6-1, on Centre Court in the quarterfinals of the Wimbledon Championships to reach the semifinal round. Strycova has never advanced this far in singles in a major before in 53 Grand Slam appearances.

“I like to fight for something that I really want,” she said.

Strycova recalled during her news conference Tuesday that her grandfather once took her to the Wimbledon Museum when she was a two-year-old toddler.

“I saw the trophy,” she said, describing the Venus Rosewater Dish that’s awarded to the Wimbledon ladies’ champion. “I was like, ‘I’m going to play here.’ … It’s a great story.

“My grand parents were living here for four years. I was coming here very often. London is my favorite city.”

Thirty-one years after her first Wimbledon visit, Strycova is back at the All England Club – and, suddenly, finds herself as a marquee attraction playing on Centre Court.

“To be honest, when I step on the court, you hear everything, like a pin drop. … Wow! I’m here,” she said.

“To play good at this tournament was my dream.”

At age 33, the unseeded and 54th-ranked Strycova became the oldest first-time Grand Slam women’s singles semifinalist in the Open Era following her victory over Konta. She rallied from down 1-4 in the first set and won in straight sets, thanks to her superior shotmaking and critical thinking abilities. Her previous best result at Wimbledon came when she reached the quarterfinals in 2014.

“For me, this tournament shows me that I can win over myself, over my emotions, over my character,” said Strycova, appearing in her 16th Wimbledon main draw. “Because I am a very emotional player, very emotional person. In the past I couldn’t really control it. But now in these two weeks, I could accomplish something that I worked so many years for with my mental coaches.”

Strycova has dropped just one set this fortnight, during her 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 round of 16 win over 21st seed Elise Mertens of Belgium. Otherwise, she has a clean sheet. Among her earlier wins, she beat No. 32 seed Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine and No. 4 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands. Ranked No. 3 in the world in doubles, Strycova remains alive in the Wimbledon ladies’ doubles with partner Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan following their 6-4, 6-2 quarterfinal victory over Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on Wednesday afternoon.

Strycova’s next singles opponent is none other that 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams from the United States, who is in pursuit of her eighth Wimbledon singles crown and attempting to tie the women’s Grand Slam mark of 24 set by Margaret Court. While Williams’ game is all about power and intimidation, Strycova, who achieved her best singles ranking of No. 16 early in 2017, has crafted her game through graceful footwork, the ability to hit well-disguised drop shots, and to outthink her opponents on the court. She loves to play a serve-and-volley style, which makes her effective on grass.

“She asks you a lot of questions with a lot of balls,” Konta said of Strycova following their quarterfinal round match on Tuesday. “She’s able to move the ball around in kind of a tricky way. She can slice really well. She can slow the game down quite well.

“She, I think, gives her opponent every opportunity to not feel great out there. That’s what she handed to me. I couldn’t find an answer for it today.”

Asked to describe Strycova, who gained international acclaim as a junior champion after winning the 2002 Australian Open title, the 37-year-old Williams said, “She’s a really good grass-court player. She knows what to do. She has a good all-around game and is incredibly tricky.”

Though Strycova is 0-3 lifetime against Williams and has not won a set in their three singles matches, she has beaten her in doubles. Strycova and Lucie Safarova, her Czech compatriot, beat Serena and Venus Williams in the first round of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games tournament en route to winning the bronze medal.

Strycova plans to approach Thursday’s semifinal match against Serena Williams without any sense of fear or trepidation. “I don’t have fear,” she said during her news conference after her quarterfinal win. “I will just go there Thursday and I will try to play my game.

“Of course, I don’t have such a power like Serena, but I have other weapons. I will try to use them as much as I can. I will enjoy. I have really, at this point, nothing to lose.

“I will just go there and fight every point I can.”