Wimbledon Daily Dispatch: Women’s Semifinals See Blockbuster Final Set for Saturday as Serena Sees Off Strycova, Halep dominates Svitolina
By Thomas Cluck
(July 11, 2019) The tennis and sports world at large has a classic rivalry for the ages on Friday between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Consider it the appetizer to a delectable, savory, and oh so sweet Saturday women’s final at Wimbledon.
The two best players of this fortnight and arguably the two best over the last three seasons- the only two women’s players to reach a major final each of the last three years- will face off in that intriguing, popcorn-worthy final blockbuster on Saturday, as 23-time major winner Serena Williams, seven times a winner at SW19, and 2018 French Open champion Simona Halep will face off for the Venus Rosewater Dish- one going for a historic, record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, the other going for a Hall of Fame-cementing victory and the fulfillment of a childhood dream. It’s gonna be sweet, and it’s gonna be good.
Facing the tougher opponent and going first on Centre Court today, Halep, the seventh seed here in London and a former world number one, saw off masterfully the mirror image across the court from her, eight seed Elina Svitolina, showing a new Simona with an aggression, conviction, and purpose on each shot stunning the defensive-minded Ukrainian to dominate and win 6-1, 6-3 in an hour and 17 minutes.
Having struggled against Svitolina in the past due to her being the more passive and risk-averse player, Halep saw the opening and the nerves in her opponent, playing in her first major semifinal, Halep in her seventh, adopting an aggressive game plan and putting on a masterclass in turning defense into offense, showing off the precision on her trademark cross-court groundstrokes before opening up the court with changes of directions and attacking forehand and backhand shots up the line. Quite simply, Svitolina was stunned. Simona was ruthless.
“It’s one of the best moments of my life, so I’m trying just to enjoy it as much as possible and be happy that I could go through to the final,” said Halep, into her first final at the All England Club after falling in her only other last four showing here back in 2014, well before any of Halep’s biggest victories, major titles, and number one rankings.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I’m really excited- and also nervous- because of this.”
“I was nervous, but I think it was the same as in some other matches, like big matches,” said Svitolina. “I played a few I would say. I didn’t play as many as probably she did because she won a Grand Slam, so she knows how it feels to achieve something major in your career.”
“I don’t know if it’s lack of experience a little bit today, but I think she played unbelievable today. She was moving really good and striking the ball perfectly.”
And while it was Halep oohing and ahhing with her masterclass of Svitolina, she was somehow one-upped by her opponent on Saturday, Williams, who took apart the tricky spins, variety, slices and dices of Czech veteran Barbora Strycova, no stranger to success on a grass court, dominating the semifinal to win 6-1, 6-2 in just 59 minutes. Serena showed she could still send a message too.
“She’s tough, she played unbelievable today. We always have tough matches but I look forward to it,” said Williams on Saturday’s final showdown with Halep.
“It’s good, especially after my year. It feels good to be back in the final. I just needed some matches. Every match I’m improving,” assessed Williams.
“Now I’m feeling good I can do what I do best, and that’s playing tennis. I wake up every morning and I get to be fit, play in front of crowds. Not everyone can do that. I love what I do, it’s just a remarkable experience. [Halep is] tough. We always have tough matches. I look forward to it.”
With a win on Saturday, Williams would equal Australian Margaret Court’s record for all-time Grand Slam singles titles at 24 major wins, a record the American legend has been vocal about her desire to break. In tense, pressure-filled major finals last year here against Angelique Kerber and at the US Open with Naomi Osaka, it appeared the weight of expectations and that unrelenting desire actually cost Serena number 24, a mark she knows she wants to hit, but now believes staying calm and not thinking about it is how to hit it.
“I thought about it this morning and actually didn’t think about it since because it’s really not about 24 or 23 or 25,” explained Williams. “It’s really just about going out there and giving my best effort no matter what. No matter what I do, I will always have a great career.”
The key come Saturday on Centre Court for Williams will be simple: stay calm, forget about the expectations and pressure, and play her usual brand of powerful, attacking, aggressive tennis. If Serena stays to the x’s and o’s against Simona, attacking the Halep second serve at any chance, it’s tough to beat her anywhere, let alone on a surface in grass that plays so well to Williams’ strengths and has already seen her win seven Wimbledon titles. Halep will look to manage the nerves, play her own brand of aggressive tennis as she did successfully against Svitolina, and extend points against Williams, a tough task anywhere for anyone. But don’t bet against Simona. It’s sure to be good, possibly legendary.
Before The Championships will savor Serena-Simona on Saturday, the Friday men’s semifinal appetizer of Fedal XL will lead off what could turn into a truly epic, history-altering final three days of an already incredibly memorable Wimbledon 2019. While Federer and Nadal will be battling for a 40th time in their careers, the evolution in their games since that potential greatest match of all time final here back in 2008 is staggering, leaving each ensuing match up more intriguing than any before.
Coming off four crucial wins in their last five matches, Federer, an eight-time champion at the All England Club, will surely know the days of Fedal dominance by Nadal are over, knowing he can compete once again with Rafa. Despite dropping their most recent meeting in a swirling, slow Parisian day last month in the French Open semifinals, Federer should feel confident in his ability to serve big on these grass courts, attack Nadal high and early on the backhand side, and shorten points against possibly the greatest defender men’s tennis has ever seen.
Nowhere is it harder to beat Federer than at Wimbledon, yet Nadal did it once here just 11 years ago, making this match up only more intriguing.
The problem for Federer despite all that Wimbledon success and a recent edge over his great rival: possibly no one is higher on confidence at the moment than Nadal. Riding the waves of a 17-match win streak that include titles in Rome- where he finally showed he could indeed beat nemesis Novak Djokovic again- and in Paris- where the key win over Federer was huge to his 12th French Open title-, also with highly-impressive, dominating wins here over dangerous big-hitters Nick Kyrgios, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Sam Querrey most recently, the confidence has to be at an all-time high for Nadal.
Those same keys that worked so well against the three dangerous potential upsets in the previous rounds here will be the same things required of Nadal if he hopes to knock off Federer in his house on Centre Court once again: serve big on the first serve, power groundstrokes with purpose and aggression, and keeping points short with finishing shots early in rallies.
Really, both Federer and Nadal will be trying to do two very similar things in their semifinal. The differentiator will be the mental game and the nerves. Who’s bolder? Who’s clearer in their intentions? Who’s stronger in the biggest, toughest moments. That’s what will be required to make Sunday’s final and that’s what makes Fedal so special. That’s what we’ll all get to sit back and see tomorrow. And may the better, bolder player win.