WIMBLEDON, England - The Wimbledon semifinals are set and the final four feature three major champions in 23-time major champion Serena Williams, two-time major champion Angelique Kerber, and 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and one of the most resurgent women of the last 12 months in No.13 Julia Goerges. After all the discussion of seeds falling through the first week of play, the semifinalist slate features three Top 15 seeds, with the one outlier being...Serena.
It's all set up for an enticing pair of showdowns on Thursday, when No.11 seed Kerber faces No.12 Ostapenko for the first meeting between the two, and No.25 seed Serena takes on No.12 Goerges for the second time in the last six weeks.
Takeaways from a highly entertaining and dramatic quarterfinal day at Wimbledon:
"It might be her year."
After her disappointing title defense at the French Open, losing in the first round to Kateryna Kozlova in Paris, Ostapenko has flown wildly under the radar at Wimbledon. It's suited her. The No.12 seed has not lost a set en route to her second major semifinal. She's dished out two bagel sets - against Vitalia Diatchenko and Aliaksandra Sasnovich - and has not lost more than three games in 5 of her 10 sets played.
But the 21-year-old hasn't necessarily cruised through either. She has been tested in her last two matches, rallying from 2-5 down in the first set to beat Sasnovich in straight sets in the Round of 16, and then found herself in a tight battle with Dominika Cibulkova in the quarterfinals to win 7-5, 6-4.
"Of course, she can [win the title]," Cibulkova said. "She made it before. She can make it again.
"She's young. She's playing with no fear. These are advantages. I think on the grass she's playing even better than on the clay. It might be. It might be her year."
With the weight of her French Open title off her shoulders, Ostapenko says she's swinging freely once again and even says she's playing as well as she was during her 2017 title run. But there's one key difference: Ostapenko is even more comfortable on grass.
"I'm not like at the French Open because I had all that pressure, now it's gone. Finally it's gone. Now it's another tournament, another great opportunity for me.
"I'm just not afraid to miss. I'm just going for the shots. I think I'm serving very well this tournament. In general, I think my level is much better than the last Grand Slam."
"I'm hoping this is a new thing. Honestly, I highly doubt it."
Serena Williams has yet to face a Top 50 player en route to her 11th Wimbledon semifinal, but the 7-time champion has so far proven she's ready to step up her game when she needs it. Big-hitting Camila Giorgi put in a strong performance on Tuesday to be the first player to take a set off the American, but Serena never panicked, coming back to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to tally her 19th consecutive win at the All England Club.
"It's weird," Serena said afterwards, when asked about how she felt after losing the first set. "Sometimes I feel, Man, I'm in trouble. Sometimes I feel, I can fight.
"For whatever reason, today I was so calm. Even when I was down the first set, I thought, Well, she's playing great. I'm doing a lot of the right things. It is what it is."
"Just to be clear, that was just today. I mean, I'm hoping this is like a new thing. Honestly, I highly doubt it. It was just the way I felt today.
"I never felt it was out of my hands. It's weird. I can't describe it. I just felt calm. Hoping I can channel that all the time, but one day at a time."
Taking it one day at a time has been working perfectly for Serena throughout the Wimbledon fortnight. Her scratchiest performance came in the first round where she hit 29 unforced errors in two sets. In a tight 7-5, 7-6(2) win over Kristina Mladenovic in the third round, Serena brought that number down to 29 unforced errors.
Against Giorgi it was down to an astounding 9 unforced errors over three sets, an average of just 3 free points a set. Coupled with her renowned power game, that is an unbeatable combination. Of the remaining semifinalists, Serena has hit the fewest unforced errors, just 84 over five matches.
"I think everything right now is a little bit of a surprise," Serena said. "To be here, to be in the semifinals. I mean, I always say I plan on it, I would like to be there, have these goals. But when it actually happens, it still is, like, Wow, this is really happening."
"I'm not looking left or right. I'm not looking at the others."
Daria Kasatkina has now played Kerber seven times in her young career, with two of those matches coming on grass in the last three weeks. So who better to ask for insight into what exactly makes Kerber's game excel on grass.
"It's really tough to play against her on grass," Kasatkina said. "Even my spin doesn't bounce that high. For her, it's a bit easier because she likes really these balls. She's very strong on this. Even you're returning on the line, under her legs, she can go for a winner, it's crazy. That's why it's really hard to play against her on grass.
"That's why she was playing finals here. She's already in the semifinals here. She's a very tough opponent on the grass. She really feels this surface."
No surface reveals the years of improvement in Kerber's game like the grass at Wimbledon. Though her game was built on indefatigable defense, Kerber has worked incredibly hard to turn herself into a far more aggressive player, one who is set to strike like a cobra the minute the opportunity presents itself.
She may be a US Open and Australian Open champion, but Wimbledon is the Slam at which she's gone deep consistently, having made the 2012 semifinals, 2014 quarterfinals, and 2016 final. Over the years, she has scored wins over Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters, Simona Halep, and Venus Williams at the All England Club.
"I mean, first I know that I have to [be aggressive on grass]," Kerber said. "On the other side, I like to play on grass. I think that I know how to play on the surface. I have so many great matches during the years where I have a lot of nice experience. That gives me the confidence that I know that I have to be the aggressive one which has to really try to play point by point and take the point in my hand."
Kerber is the highest-ranked player left in the tournament, and she heads into her third Wimbledon semifinal having slammed the door shut on three consecutive young talents, all in straight sets, beating Naomi Osaka, Belinda Bencic, and Daria Kasatkina. Standing in the way of her first major final since winning the 2016 US Open is the youngest woman in the Top 20, Jelena Ostapenko. The two have never played each other.
"I think it's a big challenge, especially with Ostapenko where I never played against her. She won also a Grand Slam. I think it will be really a good match.
"I think the match starts from zero. I mean, the pressure is not always on my side. She won a Grand Slam, as well.
"I think there are no favorites anymore. We are in the semis right now. I'm not looking left or right. I'm not looking about the others. I'm really taking care about my game, about my matches, about how I play on court. This is all I care actually, to be honest."
"It sounds crazy to maybe have the chance to share a German final in Wimbledon."
It was never supposed to happen for Julia Goerges a Wimbledon. So of course, it is. The 29-year-old German followed Angelique Kerber into the semifinals, making the first time in the Open Era that two Germans advanced to the final four at Wimbledon.
"First of all, I think it's great for German tennis," Goerges said. "I don't know what to say, to be in a semifinal and Angie is in a semifinal as well. I think Angie did a much better job than I did the last years because she was almost in every semifinal.
"To really share this feeling with her, with a nation, I think that's something which is pretty special. It sounds crazy to maybe have the chance to share a German final in Wimbledon.
"Well, it's still one more match to go for both of us. It will be both, yeah, very tough matches. But it's great to see there is a chance."
While it's no surprise to see Kerber in this position, even Goerges had to admit she never saw this coming for her. Goerges came to Wimbledon this year having lost in the first round the last five years. Playing in her 42nd Slam main draw, she was also looking to advance past the Round of 16 at a Slam - any Slam - for the first time in her career. Now she's into her first major semifinal on the heels of three great wins, beating Barbora Strycova 7-6, 4-6, 10-8 in the third round, Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2 in the Round of 16, and her good friend Kiki Bertens, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.
"For me it's probably the Grand Slam where I didn't get as much a connection with, which I maybe wanted to have, because of the results," Goerges said. "It's much sweeter to get the semifinal here than in probably other Grand Slams because I didn't expect it from my side."
"Today I showed everything that I can do."
Daria Kasatkina's first steps on a grass court were a disaster. Playing her first juniors match at Wimbledon in 2012, Kasatkina got bageled in the first set and lost 6-0, 7-5. The surface and movement was a mystery, but it was only a matter of time before the game's premier virtuoso learned that her game was perfectly suited for the turf. The belief began when she pushed Venus Williams to 10-8 in the third two years ago in the third round. It was cemented this year, where she ended Ashleigh Barty's strong grass season in the third round and then put on an entertaining display on Centre Court against Angelique Kerber in her first Wimbledon quarterfinal.
Kasatkina's turn on Centre Court was highlighted in the final game of the match, which saw her save six match points with stunning shot-making, some of which stunned even her. "[The best shot I hit in the last game was] the jumping dropshot backhand. Also the dropshot on the match point. It was amazing.
"I don't know what was going in my head. I think nothing. Just don't know why I decided to go for this one on match point, 6-5 in the second set."
"My head was just empty. I didn't feel any pressure, any fear. I was just going on the next point and playing, playing, playing. Almost every match point, it was something like crazy things I was doing. I think this is the key to win the big matches: just don't put anything in your head, to play with an empty head."
Kerber's experience and focus won her the day, but it was Kasatkina's performance that people will remember. From her leaping backhand winners, to her canny slices combined with 95mph forehand winners, the 21-year-old Russian made Kerber earn every bit of the win. And it foreshadowed what should be a very successful Wimbledon career, as she continues to build on the experience gained in what is turning out to be her breakout season.
"Today I showed everything that I can do, all my shots, emotions and stuff. Yes, I lose, but at the end I'm happy with my performance. I played my first quarterfinal at Wimbledon. I won good matches. I beat good players. I show, I think, not a bad level of the game today.
"I hope a lot of Wimbledons are in front of me. I will come just better and will show even more to the crowd."