Wimbledon: Halep Continues Quest To Repeat 2019 Title Success

Simona Halep (photo: Wimbledon video)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, July 6, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Simona Halep is three years removed from winning her first Wimbledon singles title, which she accomplished in 2019 as the No. 7 seed with a near flawless performance against seven-time champion Serena Williams, after going without a title in 10 months.

With the cancellation of the 2020 Wimbledon Championships due to COVID-19, Halep never had a proper chance to defend her title. A calf injury suffered in 2021 caused a long-delay and kept her away from the All England Club, which she gained membership to with her 2019 title triumph. She contemplated retirement. Earlier this year, Halep connected with Patrick Mouratoglou, who coached Williams to three of her Wimbledon titles during their 10-year stint.

At Wimbledon, Halep is playing some of her most spirited tennis and peaking at the right time, too.

“Last year, I felt exhausted,” Halep told CNN in a recent interview. “It was a great connection with Patrick. I discovered again why I play tennis – because I love it. He brought that fire back.”

Now, the 16th-seeded Halep is back and has confidently torn through five victories at this year’s Championships without losing a set. Wednesday afternoon on Centre Court, Halep reached her ninth major semifinal – and third at Wimbledon – with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 20 seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States, the last American hope. She has won 12 straight matches at the All England Club dating back to 2019.

“I’m really confident,” Halep said after her round of 16 victory against No. 4 seed Paula Badosa of Spain on Monday. “It’s a pleasure to be on court. I feel strong physically. I feel very good mentally. I feel I have power on court.”

While Halep hit just 11 winners, she also only made six unforced errors against Anisimova. The 20-year-old Floridian, who came back from 1-5 down in the second set and had three break points erased in the final game before succumbing on Halep’s first match-point opportunity, countered with 13 winners but also committed 28 unforced errors. Halep outpointed her opponent 59-44.

“I played a tough opponent today,” Halep said during her on-court interview Wednesday. “She could crush the ball in the end and I didn’t know, actually, what to do. But I just believed in myself. I said I have to stay there, strong on my legs. They helped me today.”

Although Anisimova won her first encounter against Halep at the 2019 French Open, the Romanian won the next two, both this season, at Roland-Garros and Bad Homburg. After reaching the semifinals at both Birmingham and Bad Homburg, Halep is now the first player to reach three semifinals on grass – including Wimbledon – in a single season since Great Britain’s Johanna Konta in 2017.

When Halep was asked by the BBC’s Reshi Persad if this is the best tennis she’s played since winning Wimbledon in 2019, she responded: “Yep, definitely. … I struggled a lot last year, and now I am trying to build my confidence back. The tennis here, so now I have just to believe. I start to do that, and it feels good.”

On Thursday, the 18th-ranked Halep will play No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, the first Kazakh, woman or man, to reach a major semifinal. Rybakina powered her way to a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 44 Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia in one hour and 51 minutes on No. 1 Court at the same time Halep was taking care of business against Anisimova next door on Centre Court.

Rybakina’s 13th ace of the match secured her quarterfinal victory on her second match-point try. She hit 32 winners and converted five of nine break-point chances against Tomljanovic. Rybakina outpointed her Croatian opponent 91-70.

I just know that I have this gift,” Rybakina said in press earlier this week. “I’m tall (6-feet-0, 184 cm) and I play really fast. It’s something something I’m working on in the gym. It’s effortless.”

During her on-court interview beating Tomljanovic, Rybakina admitted to the BBC‘s Lee McKenzie she started slow. “I didn’t serve well, maybe I was nervous,” she said. “Ajla, she played really well, she was defending really good, and I just tried to focus on my serve, to find my way. In the end, I found it.”

Thursday’s order of play will feature three first-time Grand Slam singles semifinalists – Rybakina, No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia and unseeded Tatjana Maria of Germany – and Halep, the only one of the quartet to have won a major title.

Somehow, someway, Nadal wins epic five-setter over Fritz

Two-time (2008, 2010) Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal, who 14 years ago on this date beat Roger Federer in an epic five-setter that many consider the greatest men’s tennis match ever played, went the distance, again. Somehow, someway, the resilient World No. 4 and second seed found a way to win.

Nadal bested No. 11 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States, 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), in four hours and 21 minutes on Centre Court to advance to Friday’s semifinals against unseeded Nick Kyrgios of Australia. The 22-time major champion remains in the chase for a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam title.

While the 36-year-old Spaniard has won his share of remarkable matches during his storied career, Wednesday’s quarterfinal triumph over the 24-year-old Fritz was one in which he nearly had to pull out due to an abdominal injury. However, after leaving Centre Court during the second set to receive medical treatment, Nadal returned and found a way to survive. As time marched on, he focused his attention and energy toward beating Fritz, whom he lost to 6-3, 7-6 (5), in the Indian Wells title final in March.

“It’s obvious that it has been a tough afternoon against a great player,” Nadal said in his on-court interview with Rishi Persad of the BBC. “From my personal side, it was not an easy match at all. So, I’m just very happy to be in the semifinals.

“The body in general is fine but of course in the abdominals, something is not going well, to be honest. I had to find a way to serve a little bit different. For a lot of moments, I was thinking that I would not be able to finish the match but, I don’t know, the court, the energy [kept me going].”

Nadal improved to 8-0 lifetime in Grand Slam quarterfinals. He’s also 19-0 in majors this year after garnering the Australian Open and Roland-Garros titles, then winning his first five matches at the All England Club. This fortnight, Nadal has defeated Francisco Cerundolo, Ricardas Berankis, Lorenzo Sonego, Botic van de Zandschulp and Fritz. Round by round, he’s shown what a ferocious competitor he is. The Spaniard needed four sets to win each of his first two matches. Now, Nadal has won 12 straight matches going back to the start of Roland-Garros.

Against Fritz, Nadal overcame the American’s 19 service aces and 56 winners by winning 70 percent (75 of 107) of his first-serve points, winning often at the net (26 of 36 attempts), and hitting 56 winners. Points were even at 168.

“It was a tough afternoon against a great player,” Nadal added. “All the credit to Taylor, he has been playing great during the whole season. From my personal side, it was an easy match at all. So, I’m just very happy to be in the semifinals.”

Kyrgios marches into men’s semifinals without the drama

It’s been eight years since Nick Kyrgios last appeared in a Wimbledon quarterfinal. He was 19-years-old and brash for his age. Fast forward and time has an uncanny way to heal and mature.

On Wednesday, Kyrgios, now 27, reached his first Grand Slam semifinal in his 30th major appearance. The World No. 40 from Australia defeated Chile’s Cristian Garin, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5), in two hours and 13 minutes on No. 1 Court, with an attack that combined powerful ball striking with deft touch.

Kyrgios won without the drama and aggro that marked his third-round skirmish against World No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas last Saturday. Instead of being mercurial, Kyrgios acted and played professional – and it served him well. It was his 12th grass-court win in 14 outings this season.

Kyrgios hit 35 winners – 17 of them service aces – and, although he made 29 unforced errors, he still converted half of his break points (three of six). He outpointed Garin 105-97. The 43rd-ranked Chilean, the first from his country to make a major quarterfinal since 2009, recorded 30 winners to 23 unforced errors. It was the 26-year-old Garin’s first Grand Slam quarterfinal. In defeat, he walked off the court to a huge ovation from the crowd, disappointed in his performance but proud of his achievement.

Meanwhile, the Canberra native became the first Australian man to reach the Wimbledon semifinals since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005. Now, Kyrgios is the lowest-ranked men’s semifinalist remaining as well as the first unseeded men’s semifinalist in 14 years.

After Kyrgios secured his quarterfinal victory, which ESPN analyst Darren Cahill labeled as “controlled, measured and professional,” he sat in his court side chair for a long time, soaking in the moment as well as hold back a few tears. Then, he showed a side of humility that’s not often associated with him during his on-court interview with the BBC‘s Lee McKenzie.

“I never thought I’d be in a Grand Slam semifinal,” Kyrgios said. “I thought that ship had sailed – that I might have wasted that window. I didn’t go about things great early on in my career. It’s great to put on a performance here.

“I don’t have a coach – I would never put that burden on someone. But each and every one of my team plays an important role, although no one knows my tennis better than I do. I’ve been playing this sport since I was seven. I’m in a semifinal and I’m pretty happy.

“Honestly, I thought I was playing on the back foot a lot [against Garin]. Hell of a tournament from him to make the quarterfinal. It could easily have been him standing here.”

Around the All England Club

• Women’s doubles No. 1 seeds Elise Mertens of Belgium and Zhang Shuai of China advanced to the semifinal round with an easy 6-3, 6-2 victory over Andreja Klepac of Croatia and Alexa Guarachi Mathison of Chile. The victors won 86 percent (25 of 29) of their first-serve points and outpointed Klepac and Guarachi 60-38.

Next, Mertens and Zhang will meet American duo of Danielle Collins and Desirae Krawczyk, who defeated No. 11 seeds Alicja Rosolska of Poland and Erin Routliffe of New Zealand, 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-3, on Friday.

• Men’s No. 1 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain held off No. 12 seeds Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, both of France, 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, in three hours and 17 minutes. Ram and Salisbury converted four of nine break points and outpointed their opponents 147-131.

Next, Ram and Salisbury will face No. 14 seeds Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell, both of Australia, who upset No. 7 seeds John Peers of Australia and Filip Polasek of Slovakia, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, on Thursday.

• In mixed doubles, the Australian team of Samantha Stosur and Matthew Ebden ended the run of American pair Coco Gauff and Jack Sock, winning 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, to reach the title match. They will play No. 2 seeds Desirae Krawczyk of the United States and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, who advanced with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over No. 6 seeds Sania Mirza of India and Mate Pavic of Croatia, in the final.

Wednesday’s Wimbledon results

Thursday’s Wimbledon order of play

Federer-Nadal 2008 revisited, 14 years later

One of the greatest all-time Wimbledon finals, between top-ranked Roger Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal, took place on Centre Court on July 6, 2008. After four hours and 48 minutes, Nadal defeated Federer, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7. Many have regarded this match as the greatest tennis match ever played.

By the numbers

Tatjana Maria’s quarterfinal victory over fellow German Jule Niemeier Tuesday made her only the sixth woman to reach the Wimbledon semifinals after turning 34 years-old. The previous five? Try Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Venus Williams and Serena Williams, who won a combined 30 singles titles at the All England Club in their respective careers.

“Quotable …”

• “Ons, it would be really nice to play Ons because she is really part of my family. She is part of my family, she loves my kids, she is playing with them every day.”

– No. 103 Tatjana Maria of Germany on Tuesday during her on-court interview after her quarterfinal win that advanced her to the Wimbledon semifinals. She will play her friend Ons Jabeur.

“It’s so nice to see her with her babies on tour. The fact that she really came back and did everything and, really, she deserves to be here. … Obviously, it’s tough to play her and I was joking with Charlotte (Maria’s 8-year-old daughter), I was telling her, ‘Are you going to support me or your mom?’ I’m trying to turn all the kids to my side. … I’m really happy for her that she’s getting what she deserves. I know she struggled a lot. It’s not easy coming back after having two babies. It’s going to be a great match between us, a lot of respect, for sure.”

– World No. 2 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia on Tuesday after her quarterfinal victory, which advanced her to play Tatjana Maria in Thursday’s semifinal round.