Serena Williams has not lost in the Wimbledon women’s semifinals since 2000 when Barbora Strycova, her defeated opponent, was 14, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina were 8 and 5 respectively. Today Williams was as dominant as ever reaching her third grand slam final since the birth of her daughter.
Wimbledon Women’s Semifinals
Halep and Svitolina: A Rivalry Renewed
The first semifinal of the day promised a tense contest. Svitolina and Halep have had a contentious, topsy-turvy rivalry stretching back to 2013. After splitting their first two matches, Svitolina dominated winning three contests in a row in straight sets. The situation was so dire mentally for Halep that at one point she commented “I’m not giving up against her again.” True to her word, Halep won their next match in Qatar earlier this year in three tight sets.
The early games of their semifinal – the first two games took almost 20 minutes to complete – followed the same pattern as the Qatar semifinal with long baseline rallies and both women searching for marginal advantages. Once Halep found her form, she quickly imposed herself on the match leaving Svitolina to puzzle over how to hit a ball past the lightning fast Romanian. Halep after the match reiterated her comments about not giving up stating, “I’m positive on court. I’m not giving up anymore.”
Halep’s movement based counterpunching style is built for clay, but throughout this year’s Wimbledon, she has looked comfortable on grass. Her precision shotmaking and excellent balance have bamboozled her opponents, and Svitolina was no exception.
The only area of concern for Halep will be the fact that she struck three double faults and won only 53% of points on her second serve, a shot that Williams will attack mercilessly. Halep’s first serve percentage was high at 74% for the match and she won 74% of points behind her first serve. Accurate, effective serving will be even more important against Williams who converted four of five break points against Strycova and recently returned a 138mph serve for a clean winner in mixed doubles.
Serena Williams had two questions hanging over her run at this year’s Wimbledon before the semifinals: how well would she move and could she still recover adequately after long matches. In her powerhouse performance against Strycova, she finally answered both. Despite a mentally and physically taxing quarterfinal against Alison Riske, she moved better and more confidently than she has during the entire tournament to date and far from looking fatigued, she appeared dialed in and had plenty of spring in her step and spice on her shots.
Strycova, a crafty player who some likened to Roberta Vinci who famously defeated Williams in the 2015 US Open semifinals, had no answer for Williams’ one-two punch of serve and forehand. Williams imposed her game early keeping points short and using her aggressive shotmaking to keep Strycova off balance. Even forehand slices and off-pace shots failed to prevent Williams from finding winners from the baseline and the forecourt. Notable was Williams’ willingness to come to the net and finish points with effective volleying, not always a feature of her game; perhaps evidence of the role her mixed doubles run with Andy Murray played in her preparation.
Williams, as usual, was dominant on serve winning 89% of points behind her first serve and saving all three break points she faced. From 0-40 down serving for the first set, Williams won five points in a row, sealing the set with an ace. Though the second set was more competitive initially, Williams soon broke through at 2 all and sprinted to the finish line. Strycova looked increasingly uncomfortable on court, but despite what appeared to be a leg injury, fought hard to stay with Williams to the last ball.
Halep’s skill as a returner and mover give her an excellent chance against Williams. Both women made statements today that highlight their respective strengths. Halep will hope to feed off of Williams’ power and make her move on court. Williams will try to dominate with her serve and forehand and, in rallies, force Halep to play more aggressively than usual to draw out errors from the rock solid Romanian.