Williams Survives Riske Battle to Reach Wimbledon Semi Against Strycova, Wins Again in Mixed with Murray;
Halep and Svitolina Set Blockbuster Final Four Clash
By Thomas Cluck
(July 9, 2019) It was a game of survive, then thrive, for seven-time Wimbledon champion and 1th1 seed Serena Williams on Tuesday, women’s quarterfinals day, at the All England Club, having to fight through two matches on the same day again but this time with a sweet surprise on the winning end.
Facing the only other American woman remaining in a battle between two countrywomen on Centre Court, Williams had the unenviable task of trying to become the only woman not to fall prey to another Alison Riske three-setter at The Championships, with the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native having booked her last eight spot going the distance in each of her first four matches.
Facing an early break deficit and some inspired tennis by the grass-court specialist Riske, Williams had to fight her impressive, underdog opponent and her own nerves and rust, beating all those demons to march on to another SW19 semifinal 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 and book a last four date with Czech veteran Barbora Strycova.
“It was really satisfying. I wouldn’t have won that match a couple of weeks ago,” said Williams. “I’m glad that I was able to come through. She beat so many great players. She was really so close to taking the win today.”
“I just had to button up and play hard. She was playing her heart out, and she had nothing to lose. And I realized I didn’t either,” commented the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
Williams, who is playing in just her sixth tournament of the year and her first on grass this season, is into her first semifinal of the year and is still seeking her first title since coming back to tennis after giving birth to her first child in the fall of 2017. Despite having played so few matches in 2019 and showing signs of obvious rust in her first two rounds here in London, the former number one and American legend has been rounding into ominous form at the right time in her last three matches.
“I haven’t had a great amount of time to prepare for this. Like I said at the beginning of the tournament, each and every match has to count like five or 10 matches,” explained Williams. “I have not played a lot, and this is the first time since Australia I actually felt, like, good. So it’s been a really, really long year for me already, and a hard year.”
“I don’t know where I am. I do know I feel good. Now that I feel good, I can actually focus on training and technique and practice, something that I just literally haven’t been able to do a lot of.”
“I was really pumped, it was for a place in the semis at Wimbledon- that doesn’t happen every day and it’s a long, arduous road,” concluded the American. “Put the business bun up and just get to business.”
“I’m really proud of my effort today,” said Riske. “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.”
While Williams stands just two matches away from getting her hands on an eighth Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday and claiming a record-equaling 24th major crown with Margaret Court, who holds the all-time record for most Grand Slam singles titles, Serena is also still alive and apparently thriving in the mixed doubles tournament.
A last minute all-star partnership with two-time Wimbledon singles winner and British star Andy Murray, Williams and Murray looked more in tune on the doubles court and more in sync as a team today, taking to Centre Court again and defeating the 14th-seeded team of Frenchman Fabrice Martin and American Raquel Atawo 7-5, 6-3 in just over an hour and a half.
“We’re getting in the groove of things. We’re starting to feel the rhythm,” said Williams. “I’m having a blast. It’s a great atmosphere playing out there with Andy.”
“It’s been fun being on the court with Serena so far,” commented Murray. “We’ve played some good stuff.”
“She’s the boss. She returned brilliantly, clean winners a lot of the time, making my job easy but I was missing on the break points. If she keeps returning like that we’ll have a good chance,” assessed the Brit.
“Doubles is good for the reflexes and movement. Once we’re finished here, hopefully on Sunday, I’ll get back to singles and see how that goes.”
Williams will come back on Tuesday on what would have been her rest day for the women’s singles semifinals on Thursday, instead taking to No. 2 Court with Murray third on against the top-seeded team of Brazilian Bruno Soares and America’s Nicole Melichar.
After crushing a 138 mile-per-hour return today in the doubles, Soares and Melichar better be weary of Serena. “I mean, do not expect that to ever happen again,” joked Serena about her return. “I’m convinced that was once in a lifetime. I just never hit returns like that in my life.”
“I think it’s a great thing for the fans and for sport,” explained Williams about top singles players playing doubles. “But at the end of the day so many of us are obviously focused on doing the best that we can in singles.”
“It just kind of worked out for me in particular because I was literally looking for some match play. So was Andy. It just kind of worked out.”
Williams’ semifinal opponent on Thursday will not be the hard-hitting home hope Johanna Konta of Britain, as the 19th seed fell to the tricky Strycova 7-6, 6-1 in an hour and 37 minutes on Centre Court.
After starting off strongly with her powerful groundstrokes, taking the ball early with success, Konta began to lose confidence in her weapons as Strycova, an accomplished grass-court player in her own right, sliced and diced to draw the Brit out of her rhythm and mixed up the game well, coming to net often.
“I think she [Strycova] was playing very well,” said Konta. “I think I couldn’t quite find the level that I needed to make it difficult and challenging for the kind of player she is. She’s a very difficult player to play on this surface, and in general.”
“She I think gives her opponents every opportunity to not feel great out there. That’s what she handed to me. I couldn’t find an answer for it today. And, yeah, that’s what made her good.”
Playing at her home Grand Slam in front of a huge British audience and the pressure of the English public and media, Konta entered into a tense exchange with a reporter in the press conference following some tough questions and criticism of her game today.
“Is that in your professional tennis opinion? I don’t think you need to pick on me in a harsh way,” commented a frustrated and flustered Konta. “I think I’m very open with you guys. I say how I feel out there. If you don’t want to accept that answer or you don’t agree with it, that’s fine. I still believe in the tennis that I play. I still believe in the way I competed. Yeah, I don’t have much else to say to your question.”
After the reporter followed up to her response, the British No. 1 stopped him, saying “please don’t patronize me.”
“In the way you’re asking your question, you’re being quite disrespectful and you’re patronizing me. I’m a professional competitor who did her best today, and that’s all there is to that.”
The bottom half women’s semifinal will feature two players less akin to loving the grass, 2018 Roland Garros winner Simona Halep and reigning WTA Finals champion Elina Svitolina, two players known for their defense, counterpunching, and clay-court pedigree.
Halep, a semifinalist here in 2014, made it a repeat of that with a hard-fought win over surprise quarterfinalist Shuai Zhang of China, coming back from a 1-4 hole in the first set to win 7-6, 6-1 on No. 1 Court.
The seventh-seeded Romanian was hit off the court by Zhang in 2016 at the Australian Open in the opening round, but held off her big hitting this time around to win in under 90 minutes.
“I love grass, it’s the first time when I say that,” said Halep. “I try to adjust myself, my body, to this court. I feel more confident now. Every time the ball comes to me, I feel like I know what to do with it.”
“I fought hard in the first set, even though I was down 4-1. I knew she was going to hit with a lot of power, but I knew today I had to be as strong as possible.”
“I have energy. I feel fresh. I feel confident when I step on the court. I play my best tennis on grass courts,” concluded the former number one.
Svitolina followed a similar route to Halep immediately after the Romanian on No. 1 Court, coming back from an early deficit in the opening set against crafty Czech Karolina Muchova, who stunned her countrywoman and title contender Karolina Pliskova yesterday in a three hour- plus epic, to win 7-5, 6-4 and reach her first major semifinal.
“I think in the end, this fighting spirit really helped me to find my game and to get back in the match. First set for sure was the key,” said Svitolina.
“The hardest part was that I had to make the match physical. I had to really push her physically because I knew obviously that she played three hours yesterday. She was, you know, little bit tired.”
“It feels amazing. It is the first semifinal for me, and I actually didn’t expect it to happen here. It is exciting and I am looking forward to it already,” commented the Ukrainian.
The men will take center stage on Wednesday for their quarterfinals tomorrow, as top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic takes on Belgium’s David Goffin first on Centre Court, followed by eight-time champion Roger Federer against eighth seed Kei Nishikori. Meanwhile, on No. 1 Court, surprise quarterfinalist Guido Pella and Roberto Bautista Agut will face off before two-time winner Rafael Nadal and big-serving American Sam Querrey do battle for a spot in the last four on Friday.