A 23-time Grand Slam winner, the best player of all times.
A former world No 1 who won two Grand Slams in a year.
A former Wimbledon junior champion whose first career trophy was a Grand Slam.
A player who took 42 attempts to reach the last four at a Grand Slam.
This is the women’s semi-final lineup at Wimbledon. For all the major upsets in the first week and the bloodbath of top-10 seeds, none of the names on this list are a big surprise. Serena Williams was expected to reach this far, Angelique Kerber is the highest seed left in the draw, Jelena Ostapenko has already lifted a title on this grass (junior title in 2014), Julia Goerges was long overdue a Major semi-final.
Had the women’s quarter-finals lineup gone the other way, it wold not have been entirely unexpected either, except perhaps Serena losing to Camila Giorgi. Daria Kasatkina is a future star, Dominika Cilbulkova was to be a seed here, Kiki Bertens had already slain two Top-10 seeds. The depth of women’s tennis was in full display on Tuesday, as four contenders emerged victorious playing on the second straight day.
Jelena Ostapenko (12) bt Dominika Cibulkova 7-5, 6-4
Angelique Kerber (11) bt Daria Kasatkina (14) 6-3, 7-5
Julia Goerges (13) bt Kiki Bertens (20) 3-6, 7-5, 6-1
Serena Williams (25) bt Camila Giorgi 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
But in a flurry of hotshots and feast of winners, what stood out most was the more intangible aspect of tennis – namely Serena’s raw steel when she went a set down, and Kerber’s resilience to keep fighting till she finally converted her seventh match point.
Serena and Kerber, the only two who have played in the finals at the All England Club before (in 2016 where the American won), showed the value of experience at the highest level. On paper, Serena had to fight from a set down against the world No 52 while Kerber, the highest seed left in the draw, was against the very talented 14 seed and won it in straight sets.
Neither of the matches were as straightforward as the final scoreline suggested. It was a grind, the kind the German has made her own territory; it was a triumph of spirit, a quantity that the American possesses in spades.
At the very heart of it was the sheer level of tennis and quality of shot-making from the two that made it a feast for the eyes. It was stuff of champions, simply put. It is this standard, physical and mental, that sets winners apart. And on a hot day in London, it was clear which were the players who have made the big moments their own.
Serena survives to thrive
For obvious reasons, the narrative around Serena at Wimbledon has been about motherhood and her return to the tour in hunt of the record 24th Major.
But underneath it all, this is still Serena Williams, the one who has always punched her way back for two decades. Her body has gone through the rigours of motherhood but the mind is still of the champion, the one who hasn’t lost on the grass of Wimbledon for three years. She is playing only her fourth tournament since becoming a mother but has looked fit and, more importantly, hungry every time she is on court.
Before her quarter-final with Giorgi, she hadn’t dropped a set in four rounds but a slight lapse in concentration meant that her booming serve was broken early. Her response was classic Serena: A trademark service attack, coupled with her powerful groundstrokes that relentlessly pounded the opponent till their serve was broken. She needed just two breaks after that to clinch the match.
At 1-1 in the second set, she went 0-30 down on serve. After that, she turned it all around breaking for 3-1 and not stopping till she converted her third with a loud roar. She lost her footing, stretched herself all over the court, and when she finally brought up match point with an ace, she pumped her arms in celebration. This was it, the moment had come and Serena has risen to meet it.
She is now two wins away from winning her third straight title at Wimbledon after 2015 and 2016 (she missed the 2017 season due to pregnancy). Against Georges, who had suffered five successive opening round defeats at the All England Club before this year, she will back herself with the same steely grit and raw power that saw her triumph against Giorgi.
There was a video doing the rounds about the exact moment she won the match: when she served in the first game of the second set. The glint in her eye, the one that has evolved over the 20 years on the circuit, so familiar to those who have seen her, was evident. Giorgi, who claimed she didn’t follow tennis and didn’t know Serena’s game, would now be a little familiar with what happens when the champion gear is activated.
Kerber outlasts Kasatkina
For 30-year-old Angelique Kerber, playing against someone touted to be the next big thing, 21-year-old Daria Kasatkina, was always going to be a challenge.
That Kerber is a top-level player is no doubt, but ever since her two Majors in 206, she has been unable to keep that up with a long losing streak in 2017, falling from the top 20 for the first time in five years. In 2018, she has turned that round and is the only woman to reach the quarter-finals at all three Grand Slams. However, in both Melbourne and Paris, she fell just short against a younger, fitter opponent.
At the Australian Open, she came within a point of beating Simona Halep in the semi-final in a gruelling match and were involved in another grind at the French Open, which Halep won again.
But against Kasatkina in London, Kerber made sure she learned from the past and nosed ahead every time she was beaten. She broke right back after being broken, stretched herself to play that extra shot and score the point and maintained steady pressure on the young Russian.
For the 21-year-old, nerves at this stage are still an issue to be worked over. At Roland Garros, she had lost track of her own game against Sloane Stephens in the quarters; against Kerber, she was much more in command after the early jitters.
That last game, where Kasatkina raced all over to save six match points, had 16 points, of which five had rallies. One of them was the rally of the tournament with 25 shots and multiple wow moments, but it was the veteran who prevailed just by a few inches.
It is this – going the extra mile – that has served the German well in the past. As she takes on another younger, fitter opponent in Ostapenko, she will bank on it again to reach her second Wimbledon final.