Coming into her quarterfinal match against Alison Riske, Serena Williams knew she would be in for a challenge. Riske had never before reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal–in fact, her only prior trip to a fourth round was at the 2013 US Open. Riske also came into this tournament with a losing record at Wimbledon in her career, going 7-8 and never reaching Manic Monday.
None of that mattered, though. Riske has been a very strong grass player throughout her career. Injuries and unlucky draws have been the main reasons for her Wimbledon struggles. This year, though, Riske–at 29 years old–entered Wimbledon in the best form of her career.
In the lead-up to Wimbledon, Riske won the ITF tournament in Surbiton. Surbiton is not technically a top-level event, but it’s the biggest ITF event on grass and usually is used by solid (but not elite) players as a tune-up for Wimbledon. After that, the 29-year-old won the WTA tournament in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, defeating top seed Kiki Bertens in the final.
Then came Wimbledon. Riske got a tough draw, facing Donna Vekic in the first round. She upset Vekic in three sets, then survived a tough three-setter against Ivana Jorovic. She followed that win up with three-set upsets over #13 seed Belinda Bencic and #1 seed Ashleigh Barty. It was finally, after a career of underachieving performances at SW19, a real Wimbledon triumph for her.
All of that brought a showdown with Serena Williams.
Alison Riske vs Serena Williams
Riske came out strong, breaking Serena early in the match. Williams is a 23-time Grand Slam champion for good reason, though, and did not panic. A few games later, she got the break back, then broke Riske again to win the first set 6-4.
If you thought that would crush the younger American, though, you would be wrong. Riske stayed strong in the second set, protecting her serve throughout. In fact, Serena Williams did not earn a single break point opportunity in the entire second set. Then, with Williams serving down 4-5, Riske pounced. Williams played a loose game, and Riske broke to love to take the second set 6-4.
Williams was visited by a trainer and seemed to be talking about her ankle, but it didn’t noticeable impact her play in the match. She came out strong, taking advantage of some Riske double faults to break her compatriot early in the third set. Riske did not look like a first-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, though, painting lines to break right back.
After that, the intensity ramped up. Williams went after her opponent’s serve, opening up three break points for a chance at a 5-3 lead. Riske was up to the challenge, though, hitting huge serves on all three. Williams only got one return on play, which Riske promptly punished with a strong approach shot. When Williams opened up a fourth break point with an incredible point, Riske had no response. She double-faulted the break away, and Serena would serve for the match. Five points later, it was over.
Williams moves on to Thursday’s quarterfinals, where she will face the winner of Johanna Kona vs Barbora Strycova. She has struggled with a knee injury all year, though she said before Wimbledon that she was finally pain-free. She is still searching for that magic 24th Grand Slam, to tie Margaret Court’s all-time record. She is now just two wins away from that final record that has eluded her.
Main Photo from Getty