LONDON, England - Lucie Safarova's route through the Wimbledon fortnight - she's into the semifinals for the first time - essentially began over five months ago, and on the other side of the world. It was a third round appearance at January's Australian Open at Melbourne Park, when she held a match point against the eventual champion Li Na, that convinced the Czech that she could live with anyone in tennis.
"So Lucie had that match point, and she just fell short, and with that came the realisation that she was truly close to reaching her potential. She started to really believe," Safarova's coach, Rob Steckley, said in an interview with wtatennis.com while sitting at a table on the Competitors' Lawn.
Clearly, what happened on an Australian hardcourt can influence events here on the Centre Court lawn, where Safarova will play an all-Czech, all-lefty match against Petra Kvitova, the 2011 champion. "We were sitting around for a few days on site after Lucie lost that match in Australia, and Li kept winning and winning, and she ended up taking the title, and that send a signal to Lucie that, 'Hey, I am right there with the best players in the world'. And she realised that it wasn't a matter of having to work for a number of years to get there. She realised that she was already in that ball game," Steckley said.
"Since then she's had a few more nail-biters, and has fallen short, and she has realised through those that she's really close. For sure, you can trace what's happening here all the way back to Melbourne, but it's also been a gradual thing, her confidence building and building."
No longer does Safarova fear grass. Perhaps before she was over-thinking on the surface. Now, Steckley said, Safarova is "swinging and trusting". "Her game is very well-suited to this surface. But for so many years she had doubted herself on grass because of the speed the ball comes through. For any player, if you have some doubts, it's not going to work as well. It's such a fast-paced game on grass, and you don't really have time to think. In the past, she has maybe thought a little bit too much about what to do. She already had the tools. She's thinking less, and she's swinging and trusting, and that's all paying off."
Whatever happens on Thursday, a Czech finalist is guaranteed. "Lucie and Petra are friends. It's good for Czech tennis that one of them is going to be in the final. I'm sure it's blowing up in the Czech Republic," Steckley said. "I think people in the Czech Republic think that Lucie is the kind of player who is good enough to be in the final of a Slam. That adds some excitement back home."
Mark Hodgkinson is a tennis writer based in London. He is working on a book to be published by Bloomsbury in 2015.