Just four women remain, and the excitement is palpable as the 2021 Wimbledon Championships nears its conclusion. The second of the two semifinals on Thursday will feature a power-hitting battle between two ferocious ball-strikers on the WTA.
Aryna Sabalenka Tackles Karolina Pliskova
A straight shootout between two of the WTA’s most powerful hitters will determine one of this year’s finalists at Wimbledon. Sabalenka proved far too good for Tunisia’s history-making machine Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. And in the process, she turned a corner and reached her first Grand Slam semifinal.
Sabalenka’s 6-4 6-3 victory over Jabeur ridiculed the idea that tennis is a sport of imagination and invention. Instead, it was controlled power that trumped the #21 seed’s mixture of drop shots and spin.
Jabeur had chiseled her game to stratospheric levels this fortnight. She had sent heads spinning with her dexterous hands. The Arab woman’s ploy of using the drop shot repeatedly had thrown the likes of Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza, and Iga Swiatek off balance. But Sabalenka’s unrelenting pace, which saw her secure three out of ten break point chances, extinguished the Tunisian’s hopes of reaching a Grand Slam semifinal.
Meanwhile, Karolina Pliskova surged into her first Grand Slam semifinal in over two years as she ended the fairytale run of unseeded Swiss Viktorija Golubic in two routine sets. Pliskova has not dropped a set en route to the last four and has only given away more than three games in just two sets this tournament.
Sabalenka’s Path to the Semifinal
In the absences of Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep, Aryna Sabalenka was installed as the number two seed–her highest seed ever at a Major.
Except this time around, the weight of expectation had not shrouded Sabalenka into another anxious-filled fortnight. Sabalenka’s name was billed as one of the leading favorites to win the Australian Open this year, but failed spectacularly in her bid to win the crown.
But coming to Wimbledon, a tournament where she had won just one match in three previous visits, Sabalenka took a while to gather her own game on grass, but it all seems to have clicked into place. Following a quarterfinal showing in Eastbourne, the Belarusian took care of Monica Niculescu in her opener–a match in which some fans sensed an upset given the Romanian’s unorthodox style of play.
She would then produce a terrific comeback win in the second round against home hope Katie Boulter. Victories over the Colombian qualifier Maria Camila Osorio Serano and Elena Rybakina followed before upending the trailblazing Tunisian Jabeur.
Pliskova’s Path to the Semifinal
Whatever scripts and predictions were scribbled on the eve of the tournament, Karolina Pliskova tore them apart and put herself in the main picture. The Czech has been the protagonist of her own success this fortnight. She is the only player remaining who has not dropped a set.
Pliskova has also not faced a single seeded player en route to the last four. She opened up her account with a 7-5 6-4 win over French Open semifinalist Tamara Zidaskek–her toughest bout of the week.
She followed it up with routine wins over Donna Vekic and Tereza Martincova. The most surprising of the lot was her fourth-round win over Liudmilla Samsonova. The Czech was expected to struggle to counter the power-packed game of the in-form Russian, who had clinched the biggest title of her career prior to Wimbledon.
But Pliskova dismantled the 22-year-old wild card in a way no one has managed the past few weeks. She then confirmed her berth in the semis with the aforementioned victory over Golubic.
Active Players to Reach the Semifinals at All 4 Slams:
Karolina Pliskova pic.twitter.com/6fh8YlbHrN
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) July 6, 2021
Aryna Sabalenka vs Karolina Pliskova Head-to-head
Sabalenka leads the series 2-0, winning both meetings in three sets, in 2018. First, she emerged victorious in a third-set tiebreaker on the lawns of Eastbourne. She then extended her winning sequence in Cincinnati in another closely-contested three-setter.
How do their numbers compare?
For Pliskova, her serve has been central to this scintillating run of form. She has racked up 40 aces so far, and has been broken just three times in five matches. But she will face the toughest assignment of her redemption attempt when she plays a seeded opponent on Centre Court on Thursday.
Pliskova on Sabalenka: “It's going to be big match b/c she goes for big, big shots, big game, big serve. There's not going to be much time to think about what should I do, what should I not do. Just quick decisions.
"But I believe I have also a game which can bother her a bit." pic.twitter.com/e7vFnOKy02
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) July 6, 2021
In her win over Jabeur, Sabalenka recorded her fastest serve at 122 mph–one of the fastest at this year’s Championships. The Belarusian has also recorded another high of 147 winners, with 48 of those pummeling Monica Niculescu in the first round.
Both players are in top form. This match will most certainly live up to its top-notch billing.
Main Photo from Getty.