Aryna Sabalenka finally delivering on her promise at Wimbledon

Semi-final place beckons after impressive victory over Ons Jabeur on centre court

 Aryna Sabalenka plays a shot  against Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur during her  women’s quarter-final victory at Wimbledon. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP

Aryna Sabalenka plays a shot against Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur during her women’s quarter-final victory at Wimbledon. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP

 

Aryna Sabalenka was only 20 years old when she strode into the top 20 of the WTA rankings in 2018. In the time since, she has compiled 10 WTA titles, she has beaten many of the best players of her time and she has learned how to harness her enormous power enough to perform consistently and rise to fourth in the rankings.

Those great achievements, ones that most professionals could only dream of, have for so long come with a caveat: she had never crossed the fourth round of a slam, and often wasn’t even close.

This year at Wimbledon, despite the added weight of being seeded second at a slam for the first time, Sabalenka has finally taken the next step in her career by piecing together a deep, authoritative slam run. It took a dominant performance under the centre court roof as she defeated Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-3 to reach her first semi-final at Wimbledon.

Sabalenka had never previously passed the second round here and, before this year, had reached the fourth round of a major only once. She said that her inability to perform at the biggest tournaments was at times crushing.

“I was struggling on the Grand Slams with all emotions going through,” said Sabalenka. “After every slam I was so disappointed about myself that I can’t handle this pressure.”

“I actually thought that I would never make it to the second week. We worked a lot with my psychologist and with my coach. We worked a lot. Really happy that here in Wimbledon I’m on the second week, I’m still in the tournament, and I still have this opportunity to win a slam. I will do everything I can to reach my goal.”

As she tackled Wimbledon once more, Sabalenka says that she spoke with her psychologist about believing in herself and continuing her work but also about embracing the weight of competing at a major.

“When you’re trying not to think about anything, you start to think about it much more. So I kind of accept this situation that I’m under pressure in the Grand Slams.”

Across the net Jabeur’s own whirlwind week came to an end but the memories she has created are forever. Jabeur continued her pioneering run by becoming the first Arab or North African person to reach the quarter-final of Wimbledon since 1974.

Worst season

Jabeur arrived at Wimbledon having never played on Centre Court and she has charmed each crowd she has performed before with her creativity, showmanship and her willingness to live and die by her drop shots. Wherever she goes next, history will follow.

Sabalenka will now face Karolina Pliskova, the No 8 seed, in the last four, who has defied many of her own demons to reach her first Wimbledon semi-final.

The former No 1 has been struggling badly with her form in what has been her worst season in seven years. After falling out of the top 10 for the first time since 2015, she is currently only 20th in the race and she had won multiple matches in only two of her previous 14 tournaments before this event.

At Wimbledon, once a place at which she could never escape the second round, Pliskova has finally rediscovered her form. She has not dropped a set all tournament, easily defeating Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday to reach her first Wimbledon semi-final. Pliskova is now only the sixth active player to have reached the semi-finals of all four slams.

“It means a lot, of course,” said Pliskova.

“Especially after, like, not really having many good weeks before Wimbledon, it feels like a dream a bit. Anyway I believed at some point I would find my game. I’m just happy it worked out well in these two weeks. Of course it was my last Grand Slam missing the semi-final, so I’m happy now I have all of them.”

The other semi-final will see top seed Ash Barty of Australia take on 2018 champion Angelique Kerber.

World number one Barty outclassed compatriot Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1 6-3 in the first all-Australian women’s Grand Slam quarter-final since the 1980 Wimbledon championships. The 25-year-old produced a calm and composed display on Centre Court.

Kerber dismantled Karolina Muchova in ruthless fashion in her quarter-final. The 25th seed progressed into the semi-finals with a 6-2 6-3 victory following one hour and 15 minutes of action on Court One.

The line-up of the the men’s quarter-finals was finalised when Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz ousted second seed Daniil Medvedev after the pair returned on Tuesday to finish their rain-hit match. Hurkacz reached his maiden major quarter-final where he will meet eight-time Wimbledon winner Roger Federer.

World No.2 Medvedev was leading Hurkacz by two sets to one on Monday with the fourth set on serve when play was cancelled for the day because of rain after the players had spent two hours and 25 minutes on Court Two.

But the 24-year-old Hurkacz, seeded 14th, looked a completely different player when the match restarted under the closed roof of Centre Court, triumphing 2-6 7-6(2) 3-6 6-3 6-3.

– Guardian

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