In a narrowly contested Wimbledon quarterfinal clash between the two players leading the WTA Tour in match-wins this season, No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka defeated No.21 seed Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-3 to reach her first major semifinal.
"I just enjoy everything on this surface," Sabalenka said in her post-match press conference. "It's actually tough to play on the grass, but I really enjoy every second on the court. It's about everything: about serving, about returning, about moving, about everything actually."
Coming into the match, both players had racked up 33 victories in 2021, including titles in Abu Dhabi and Madrid for Sabalenka, and in Birmingham for Jabeur. The quality of the 1-hour, 13-minute match reflected this, with Sabalenka tallying 26 winners to Jabeur's 22. Those frequently drew gasps of admiration from the Centre Court crowd, as awed by Sabalenka's brutal power as Jabeur's creativity on the fly.
Sabalenka becomes the third Belarusian woman to reach the last four of Wimbledon following Natasha Zvereva in 1998 and Victoria Azarenka in 2011 and 2012. Sabalenka, 23, had never progressed past the fourth round of a Grand Slam prior to this fortnight, despite winning 10 titles since 2018 and rising to a current career high ranking of World No.4.
But at SW19, Sabalenka has not only brought the familiar power that can shut out most opponents but a determined focus. That was evident in a match, which hinged on a small handful of games where the pressure levels rose significantly.
"The only thing I was thinking about is my game, to stay focused and to fight for every point, for every opportunity I had," Sabalenka said. "Today, it surprised me, but I didn't feel that pressure of being in [a major] quarterfinal for the first time. I was just enjoying the atmosphere and enjoying my game, just doing everything I can to win this match. So it was great performance for me."
Little quarter was given on serve throughout. Jabeur won 74% of her first serve points, and Sabalenka 83% of hers; with both landing over 60% of their first deliveries, this made for a series of dominant holds.
The first real opportunity to break the match open came as Jabeur served to stay in the first set. A double fault and pair of forehand errors were the first sign of vulnerability from the Tunisian, and paved the way for an edge-of-seat, seven-deuce mini-thriller.
Jabeur came up with big serves and superb defence to somehow stave off four set points, with desperate, errant drop shot attempts proving Sabalenka's undoing twice. But Sabalenka kept coming, and unleashed a crosscourt forehand to seal her fifth chance.
Keeping a firm grip of the momentum, Sabalenka started the second set by escaping triple break point with clutch serving, then breaking Jabeur as the 26-year-old slipped and netted a forehand. But Jabeur, the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals at SW19, wasn't about to fade away.
Jabeur levelled at 2-2, essaying her finest drop shots of the day and a bold serve-and-volley switch-up. With the match again on a knife-edge and both players hitting line after line, Sabalenka needed to summon all her fortitude to escape a break point - and three consecutive Hawkeye challenges - and hold for 3-2.
That game proved key. Sabalenka's forehand, which had temporarily gone astray, returned, and was fiercer than ever. She began to match Jabeur in finesse, coming up with exquisite counter-drops in response to her opponent's drop shots. And there was no hesitation as she pounded a drive volley away to regain the break for 5-3.
The final game was still tight - this time, Sabalenka slipped on the grass, and had to save a break-back point. But Jabeur netted a forehand on that opportunity, and Sabalenka closed out her first match point with a booming backhand one-two punch.
Next up for Sabalenka will be a semifinal meeting against No.8 seed Karolina Pliskova. Sabalenka has won both of her two prior meetings with Pliskova.
Sabalenka said that Pliskova is "a great player. She's moving well right now. She's hitting balls really solid and serving well. It's going to be a tough match, but I'm really looking forward for this one. As I said in the on-court interview, I'll do everything I can to win that one. "
Pliskova completes Grand Slam semifinal set with Golubic win
Karolina Pliskova will now play for a spot in a Grand Slam final for the fourth time in her career.
Earlier, the No.8 seed became the first woman through to the final four at Wimbledon on Tuesday after a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 win over surprise quarterfinalist Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, advancing to the semifinals at the All-England Club for the first time.
Pliskova never lost serve in 81 minutes on No.1 Court, breaking the Swiss twice in each set. She racked up 28 winners to 19 unforced, nearly tripling Golubic's total of winners, and won seven straight games from 2-2 in the first set.
She also hit eight aces in the match and won 83 percent of the points played behind her first serve.
"Let's say it was almost perfect. I would find some mistakes for sure," Pliskova said with a smile, assessing her performance. "But I always do find something. I think I did well. I think I did exactly what I needed to do to beat her. I was super focused and just tried to play every point, not to give her that many easy balls because I know she doesn't really miss much.
"I expected tough match. I lost to her once in Fed Cup. She beat some good players. She was clearly on a run. I knew it's going to be difficult since the first moment. I think I handled some tough situations. There were a couple of close games which I handled well.
"My serve was extremely good today, I would say. Also the court was hard because it was a bit windy out there today. These conditions are perfect for me. I'm happy about the win."
Pliskova has now reached the semifinals at all four Grand Slams, previously doing so at the 2016 US Open, the 2017 French Open and the 2019 Australian Open. She hasn't lost a set so far this fortnight.
Through to the second week, let alone the quarterfinals, of a Grand Slam for the first time this fortnight with upsets over No.29 seed Veronika Kudermetova and No.23 seed Madison Keys among her wins, Golubic battled hard in her attempts extend the match late in the second set.
Pliskova had all the answers, however, in two lengthy deuce games to seal the win: she saved three break points in a six-deuce game to lead 5-2, and won the match on her fourth match point.
"I think everyone saw that what the key was today. I wasn't able to get into one rally when she was serving. That was really unbelievable... She was serving great. It was tough to read," Golubic said.
"Even when I was expecting a little bit to go one or the other side, it was still very tough to return. So even the second serves were quite good, although she had I think a huge percentage of first serves as well.
"That put a lot of pressure on my serve games where I maybe didn't manage to serve that well today, although she also didn't give me any free points. I think that was the main point.
"I think I enjoyed the atmosphere. It was amazing to play on that court. I didn't feel like I was nervous or didn't play that well. That was not the case at all.
"I just think that I still had a good performance. It was just that she maybe even had a, you know, better performance so she could top it. Maybe it's just at that stage of a tournament, maybe that experience helped or she knew how to even raise that level."
For a spot in the final, Pliskova will face No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka. Sabalenka owns a 2-0 head-to-head edge against Pliskova after winning two three-setters back in 2018: a 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 win in Cincinnati, and a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(5) win in Eastbourne.
"It's going to be big match because she goes for big, big shots, big game, big serve. I think there's not going to be much time to think about what should I do, what should I not do. Just, like, quick decisions.
"I believe I have also a game which can bother her a bit. Big serve. I need to play fast, just put pressure on her. It's semifinals, so there's nobody super easy. You can have players maybe which you like a bit more. We played couple times, but always was super close match. I know a bit about her. Let's see. I thought she played amazing all two weeks here. So do I. Let's see what's gonna happen there."