Former champion Kerber, first-timers into Wimbledon semi-finals

Published July 7, 2021
LONDON: Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic returns against Germany’s Angelique Kerber during their Wimbledon quarter-final at The All England Tennis Club on Tuesday.—AFP
LONDON: Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic returns against Germany’s Angelique Kerber during their Wimbledon quarter-final at The All England Tennis Club on Tuesday.—AFP

LONDON: When Angelique Kerber grabbed the opening set of her Wimbledon quarterfinal, the full-capacity crowd saluted the accomplishment with cheers that bounced off the closed roof at Court Number One.

Kerber’s reaction? Just a matter-of-fact, straight-faced stroll to the sideline. No shouts or leaps or fist pumps. Unlike the other women headed to the semi-finals at the All England Club, this is not new to her. Not at all. It’s just that it’s been a while.

The owner of three Grand Slam titles, including at Wimbledon in 2018, Kerber moved back into the final four at the grass-court major by using her knee-to-the-turf agility and quick reflexes to beat 19th seed Karolina Muchova 6-2, 6-3 on Tuesday.

“I really enjoy every moment here,” Kerber told the packed house on the first day of 100% capacity in the two main stadiums after after Covid-19 restrictions placed a 50% cap on attendance when the fortnight began. “I’m so, so happy to be here again in the semis. That means a lot to me.”

Kerber, a 33-year-old left-hander from Germany, will next go up against world number one Ash Barty, who beat Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-3 in the first all-Australian major quarter-final in 40 years.

Tomljanovic, who battled past British wildcard Emma Raducanu the night before to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final, was now­here to be seen a one-sided first set.

But the 28-year-old did make more of a match of it in the second, breaking the Barty serve twice. Barty always had another level though and ended Tomljanovic’s resistance in little over an hour.

Barty won the 2019 French Open, but she had never been to the quarter-finals at the All England Club.

Indeed, this was the first time in the Open era, which began in 1968, that the tournament had six first-time women’s quarter-finalists. Only Kerber and Muchova boasted past experience.

The other semifinal Thursday will be second seed Aryna Sabalenka against eighth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, who both won in straight sets.

Sabalenka collected her tour-leading 34th match win of 2021 by eliminating 21st seed Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-3 at Centre Court, and Pliskova eliminated unseeded Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 6-2 at Court Number One.

Pliskova the 2016 US Open runner-up to Kerber and, like her, formerly ranked world number one claimed 24 of 26 points on her serve in one stretch, hit eight aces and saved the only three break chances she faced.

“I feel like I’m improving with every match. ... Everything today was working quite well, Pliskova said. “I just feel my game is good the last two weeks, even in the practices.”

Pliskova has been broken only three times through five matches so far and has not dropped a set. She also hasn’t played anyone ranked better than 47th yet. Now she’ll face more of a test.

Sabalenka is all about power and big cuts at the ball, and even with that constantly aggressive style, she managed to accumulate more winners, 27, than unforced errors, 20.

“I’m happy that, from the side, it looks like everything is working for me. Sometimes its really tricky, shots on the grass. Sometimes its tough to do anything with the ball,” said Sabalenka, a 23-year-old from Belarus who hadn’t been past the fourth round at any major previously.

In the day’s lone men’s singles match, 14th seed Hubert Hurkacz came back to beat second seed Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the resumption of a fourth-rounder contest suspended on Monday night. Hurkacz’s first Grand Slam quarterfinal will come against 20-time major champion Roger Federer on Wednesday.

“Roger, what he does, the way he plays, the titles he has won he has inspired so many people,” said Hurkacz, a 24-year-old from Poland. “It’s going to be fun. I’ll be hoping to get a little bit of support.”

Late on Monday, Federer became the oldest man in the modern era to make the last-eight at Wimbledon.

Eight-time Wimbledon champion Federer, who will be 40 in just under five weeks’ time, brushed aside Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 to make the quarter-finals at Wimbledon for the 18th time and 58th overall at the majors.

Felix Auger-Aliassime, seeded 16, defeated fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 3-6, 6-4 after the German was undone by 20 double faults and 42 unforced errors.

Results on Tuesday (prefix number denotes seeding):

Women’s singles:

Quarter-finals: 1-Ashleigh Barty (Australia) bt Ajla Tomljanovic (Australia) 6-1, 6-3; 25-Angelique Kerber (Germany) bt 19-Karolina Muchova (Czech Republic) 6-2, 6-3; 8-Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic) bt Viktorija Golubic (Switzerland) 6-2, 6-2; 2-Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus) bt 21-Ons Jabeur (Tunisia) 6-4, 6-3.

Men’s singles:

Fourth round: 14-Hubert Hurkacz (Poland) bt 2-Daniil Medvedev (Russia) 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Monday’s remaining results:

Men’s singles:

Fourth round: 16-Felix Auger-Aliassime (Canada) bt 4-Alexander Zverev (Germany) 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 3-6, 6-4; 6-Roger Federer (Switzerland) bt 23-Lorenzo Sonego (Italy) 7-5, 6-4, 6-2.

Women’s singles:

Fourth round: Ajla Tomljanovic (Australia) bt Emma Raducanu (Great Britain) 6-4, 3-0 — Raducanu retired.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2021

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