First WTA Semifinal Just Amazing For Niemeier

Jule Niemeier (photo: @WTA_Strasbourg/Twitter)

STRASBOURG/WASHINGTON, May 29, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

One of the biggest surprises during this week’s Internationaux de Strasbourg, a red clay Roland-Garros tune-up taking place in northeastern France, has been the emergence of German rising star Jule Niemeier. What a week it’s been for the 21-year-old native of Dortmund.

“I came here as an alternate, so I didn’t expect much!” Niemeier (who pronounces her first name “YOU-la”) exclaimed during a virtual press conference that followed her three-set semifinal loss to No. 5 seed Barbora Krejcikova Friday evening. “Playing my first WTA semifinal was just amazing.”

After scoring a pair of victories last weekend to reach the main draw, Niemeier earned her first WTA tour-level victory in the opening round against French qualifier Diane Parry. Then, she picked up her first Top 50 victory by beating No. 46 Shelby Rogers of the United States. Later in the same day, she earned her first WTA quarterfinal win against No. 84 Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands. Finally, it earned the German a berth in her first WTA semifinal, against Krejcikova of the Czech Republic.

For a set, it appeared that Krejcikova was ripe for an upset as Niemeier won the opening set 7-5 in back of hitting a pair of aces, winning 77 percent of her first-serve points and converting two of four break-point opportunities. However, the Czech star recovered over the next two sets and went on to win 5-7, 6-3, 7-4 to reach Saturday’s final against Sorana Cirstea.

Niemeier, who hit 20 winners but committed 62 unforced errors against Krejcikova, finished the week 5-1 and her season win-loss record in all competitions (playing mostly ITF European events) stands at a healthy 23-9. Earlier this month, she won an ITF 25K clay tournament in Prague in which she ran the table from qualifying through the championship match.

“For me, [Strasbourg] was a great experience,” Niemeier said. “It’s really important that I [know I] can play on a high level.”

When Tennis TourTalk asked Niemeier what her performance in Strasbourg might do for her confidence, she smiled at the reporter. “It shows me I can play matches against the best players. I think it’s really important to feel how they’re playing, but also to realize they’re human beings [too]. I’m really confident now. I’m happy I won five matches this week.”

Afterward, during her virtual press conference, Krejcikova gave due props to Niemeier. “This week, she is doing really well,” she thoughtfully said. “I remember when I did something similar in Nürnberg in 2017, when I was a qualifier and I reached the final, and I remember I was playing girls that were [ranked] way, way higher than I was.

“She showed that she can play really big tennis, she’s serving very well, she’s very solid, and I just wish her all the bet for the upcoming tournaments.”

Niemeier said she’s setting her sights on the upcoming grass-court season, specifically targeting upcoming events in Berlin and Hamburg, Germany, with an eye toward qualifying for Wimbledon.

Looking back, Niemeier told Tennis TourTalk: “It has definitely been one of the best weeks so far for me. I’m really happy how everything turned out this week. I won five matches. Although I lost the semifinals – and of course, I’m disappointed and I wanted to win – I will take the positive things with me [going forward].”

What did Niemeier learn about herself? “I think the mental aspect is really important for me and for my game,” she said. “To stay calm inside, to know what I really have to do, to focus on my game.” Niemeier stressed that focusing on playing tennis is what is most important and to not worry about points or money. “I just really want to focus on playing tennis and to do my best.”

French Open field set after qualifying draw completed

The final 16 French Open qualifiers (eight men, eight women) were determined at Stade Roland Garros on Friday. Among the familiar names were: Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz, up-and-coming American Jenson Brooksby, Denis Istomin of Kazakhstan, Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland, Storm Sanders of Australia and Ana Konjuh of Croatia.

Alcaraz needed just 58 minutes to defeat Alejaandro Tabilo of Chile, 6-1, 6-1, while Konjuh conquered Rebecca Sramkova of Slovakia, 7-6 (1), 6-4, to complete her third straight victory.

“I’m really, really happy,” Alcaraz said, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “It’s a great feeling to play here in my first main draw here in Roland Garros. Everyone is really hungry to qualify to the main draw, so for me it’s a great feeling. I am feeling really comfortable on court and let’s see who I play in the main draw.”

Once the qualifiers were placed into the main draw, Alcaraz was paired against another Spanish qualifier, Bernabe Zapatero Miralles, for his first-round opponent in defending French Open champion Rafael Nadal’s quarter of the upper half. Meanwhile, Konjuh will open against World No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka in the Belarusian’s quarter of the lower half.

Honoring a living legend, Fred Stolle