Breaking down the women’s semis at Wimbledon

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Three of the top eight seeds in the women’s draw advanced to the Wimbledon semifinals. The other semifinalist just so happens to be a three-time Grand Slam champion.

While second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka will square off against No. 8 seed Karolina Pliskova, top-seeded Ash Barty will take on Angelique Kerber, who won the Venus Rosewater Dish in 2018.

Who will advance to Saturday’s final? And how big of an X factor is experience at this stage? We ask our experts to preview Thursday’s semifinals.

1. Who will meet in the final and why?

James Blake: Barty and Sabalenka. Barty simply has too much variety in her game, and Sabalenka finally has the weight off her shoulder of a good Slam result.

Simon Cambers: Barty and Pliskova. Barty just seems a woman on a mission, 50 years after Evonne Goolagong’s first title here. Kerber will face a lot of questions in the semis but she has the variety to progress. Pliskova seems to be playing without pressure, while Sabalenka is likely to be a ball of nervous tension.

Tom Hamilton: Kerber will meet Sabalenka in the final. Both are peaking at the right time, and as this championship has proved, form is king.

D’Arcy Maine: This is tough. But ultimately Sabalenka and Kerber will meet on Saturday with the title on the line. (Did I change my answer there multiple times? Yes.)

Everything has come together so perfectly for Sabalenka, and she has proved how tough she is to beat during non-Slams previously. Now that she has found her confidence and rhythm and played her way deep into the second week, she will overpower Pliskova and make her first major final.

Kerber has been consistently dominant throughout the fortnight, and has only improved as the tournament has progressed. Barty, however, has shown moments of vulnerability and has struggled with injuries this season. Kerber’s rediscovered consistency and momentum will ultimately be too much for Barty.

Kathleen McNamee: Kerber and Pliskova will meet in the final. Barty has struggled with her serve during the tournament, and with Kerber hitting her stride on her favorite court, I think she can see past the world No. 1. The second semifinal is more interesting as it is a first for both. Pliskova has arguably had the more steady tournament than Sabalenka and I think this confidence will see her through.

Pam Shriver: Ash Barty will earn her first Wimbledon singles final, because her all-court game, built around her serve and forehand, is getting better each round. Kerber is playing her best tennis since she won here in 2018; but while her crafty lefty game will make any player uncomfortable on grass, Barty’s serve and all-court skill will be a little too much for her.

After never reaching a major quarterfinal, Sabalenka has finally broken through that barrier (plus one more) and now looks poised to reach her first final. This slugfest between Sabalenka and Pliskova will have moments of variation that will be the difference. Sabalenka’s ability to slice and hit drop shots has left her opponents more off balance. After all the WTA Tour finals in which she has played, she will play her first major final Saturday.

2. Pliskova and Sabalenka haven’t won a Grand Slam singles title, while Barty and Kerber have combined for four. How much of a difference is experience at this stage?

Blake: Experience has a lot of value, but the comfort of playing a familiar opponent can help to make up for some of that.

Cambers: It helps a lot. The semifinals are a huge stage, and knowing how to rise to the occasion and handle the full crowd makes a big difference.

Hamilton: It’s huge. Wimbledon does strange things to put players under pressure, and it’s about taking opportunities and blocking out the noise. Both Kerber and Barty have done this before and have that irreplaceable experience.

McNamee: Having the big match experience will give Barty and Kerber the reassurance that they know they can do it on the biggest stages. However, if Pliskova and Sabalenka can harness their adrenaline in the right way, it might just be the extra edge they need to win the whole thing.

Maine: Experience can’t be undervalued. Barty and Kerber certainly have an advantage, as they both know what it takes to be the one hoisting a trophy on the final day. However, as they are facing each other in the semis, that advantage seems to be almost negated at this point. Kerber might have the slight edge as she has the experience of winning at the All England Club, but Barty’s win is more recent. Whoever escapes that semifinal clash certainly enters the final with an extra advantage, as they understand not just what it takes, but also everything that comes with playing on the final day, including the hype and the intense media attention.

Of course, Pliskova has also reached a major final, so she has some understanding of that, and Sabalenka has experienced it on a smaller scale with her two major doubles titles. And, not to mention, if last month’s French Open taught us anything, experience isn’t always necessary.

Shriver: With these semifinal matchups, previous major wins (Kerber and Barty) won’t mean as much. All four players have great resumes on tour. All but Sabalenka has held or holds the No. 1 ranking, and all have won many important semifinal and final matches. These four semifinalists understand this WTA era of surprise major results, and all believe this is their time to win at Wimbledon.

3. Is Kerber back to the form that won her Wimbledon in 2018?

Blake: Kerber is back to playing well enough to win here on what should be her best surface, but I think Barty has too much variety and ability.

Cambers: I’d say she is. It’s pretty amazing given her form during the first half of the year, but I get the feeling she really struggled in the pandemic, playing in front of empty stadiums. Now that crowds are back and she’s playing on her favorite surface where her flat groundstrokes carry more penetration, she’s dangerous.

Hamilton: Absolutely. She’s playing the best tennis since then. She just won at Bad Homburg, her first title since her last Wimbledon one, and even though she’s perhaps flying under the radar here, she can win her second Wimbledon title. She was superb against Coco Gauff and is riding the wave of self-belief.

McNamee: Kerber has recovered nicely since her French Open disappointment. She’s back on her favorite court and showing why she won in 2018. The result at Bad Homburg was the perfect confidence boost before Wimbledon, but there is still doubt that she hasn’t quite recovered to the heights of 2018. After all, her home crowd win was her first since that famous Wimbledon result. She has shown some big results, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her go all the way.

Maine: Maybe? Kerber certainly has been playing her best tennis since that victory, but what might be more important than that is, does she believe she’s as good as she was when she won Wimbledon?

It was clear from her past three major appearances — which all resulted in first-round exits — how much she struggled with her confidence. But, thanks in part to her grass-court title at Bad Homburg last month, she seems to have reminded herself just how dangerous she can be on the surface. Gauff and Karolina Muchova are both incredibly talented young players, but Kerber never faltered in either match. Does she believe enough to get past the No. 1 player in the world? We’ll have to wait and see.

Shriver: Kerber looks a lot like the player who beat Serena here in the 2018 final — perhaps with a little less power on her shots, but all of the same fight, hustle, grit and craft. Her 3-hour, 20-minute clash against Sara Sorribes Tormo during Week 1 was the match that put her back into Wimbledon-level condition and confidence.

4. What has impressed you most about Sabalenka this tournament?

Blake: Sabalenka always hits with tons of pace, but the fact she has controlled her forehand has remained consistent.

Cambers: The way she has handled herself in difficult situations. She has held her nerve and seemingly managed to find the balance that has been lacking in the past. She has the power to win it all; she just needs to pick the right time to pull the trigger.

Hamilton: She has translated her power game into points here and has managed her own nerves. She has been open about the pressure she has put on herself, and she’s now channeling those emotions into a wonderful run here.

McNamee: Sabalenka has really grown into this tournament. She admitted that she suffered from nerves early on, but she has recovered nicely. She even seemed surprised after she beat fan favorite Ons Jabeur that she didn’t feel more nervous or as emotional as she had in previous rounds. If she can keep that inner peace she has found, then this could be a massive few days for her.

Maine: Sabalenka long had the talent, the ability and the drive to win big titles, but to see her put it all together at one time has been great to see. While she’s never had much trouble winning non-Slam titles or even major doubles titles, it always seemed as if something was lacking on the biggest of stages. But not anymore. After her win on Tuesday, she said she had been focusing on certain aspects of her game entering the tournament, and not solely on winning it, and she believes that has made a difference.

If she takes that same approach — focusing on what she can improve upon as opposed to how she can win — into her semifinal match and continues to not be intimidated by the moment, she has as good a chance as anyone to reach the final.

Shriver: Sabalenka’s variation, patience and inner calmness has impressed me the most. Her three-set win against home favorite Katie Boulter on Centre Court during the first week gave her the belief that this major would be different from the others. Her mental game has been just as impressive as her physical game, and she is embracing grass-court tennis with appreciation.

5. With the recent unpredictability of women’s tennis, what do you make of three of the top 10 reaching the semis?

Blake: That is the unpredictable part for this event. It hasn’t happened lately that seeds held.

Cambers: It’s more than that: a world No. 1, two former world No. 1s and a world No 2. This is a quality quartet who have responded to being back at Wimbledon. Each of them, in their way, has embraced the occasion.

Hamilton: Amid the unpredictability, Barty and Sabalenka making it this far brings some order to the chaos. But given there have been 12 different semifinalists across the Grand Slams this year, there’s plenty of twists and turns left on this roller coaster. What this does prove is a monopoly on the women’s game seems a long way off, and there’s opportunity here to win the sport’s biggest prize.

McNamee: At the start of Wimbledon, anyone could’ve closed their eyes and pointed to a board to guess who might’ve made it this far. Does having top players in this final mean things are settling? I don’t think so. There are too many talents who have impressed over the past week and a half (Emma Raducanu, Gauff, Jabeur) to say the chaos is stopping, and that’s going to be exciting to watch unfold.

Maine: The French Open exemplified the depth of the women’s game and how capable so many of those in any given main draw are of winning the title. The varied results at Wimbledon throughout the fortnight show that’s still very much true, but that those on top of the rankings are there for a reason.

Even though all four semifinalists are seeded and three are in the top 10, there are few who would have predicted this group to be the last four standing. This is Sabalenka’s first time advancing past the fourth round at a Slam, Pliskova’s first major semifinal since 2019 and Kerber’s first since 2018. Barty was the only one considered a favorite entering the tournament.

Almost any woman playing at a major can win a title, and as obvious as this might sound, that includes the top players, too.

Shriver: After 715 days between the end of 2019 Wimbledon and the start of this year’s Championships on June 28, it makes sense that players with previous grass-court experience would be left standing in the semifinals. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 event, younger and less experienced major champions of recent times were hurt by the year off — Sofia Kenin, Bianca Andreescu, Iga Swiantek, and Barbora Krejcikova never looked to be in a position to go deep into the second week. Maybe it was only a matter of time before more order was restored at the end of a women’s major; Wimbledon’s lawns have been the perfect place for it to happen.



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