After a flurry of surprises, Wimbledon is settling down toward the back end of its 128th women’s tournament.
While half of the eight quarterfinalists are unseeded, fine form, consistently demonstrated across 2022, is beginning to exert itself. After World No.1 Iga Swiatek’s 44 victories this year, the next three match-win leaders – Ons Jabeur (34), Simona Halep (30) and Amanda Anisimova (29) – are all still alive at the All England Club.
Wednesday’s quarterfinals feature the No.16-seeded Halep, No.17 Elena Rybakina and No.20 Anisimova. No.44-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic is the only unseeded player in action.
What is it about grass that agrees with all of them? An undeniable connection to this all-natural surface.
“It’s not easy to answer because grass is not an easy surface, and you have to really connect with it,” said Halep, who is into her fifth Wimbledon quarterfinal. “You have to get used to it. I like it because it’s fast, I think. I feel it.”
They all do.
No.16 Simona Halep vs. No.20 Amanda Anisimova
After a 2021 both would like to forget, Halep and Anisimova find themselves a win away from the Wimbledon semifinals. Halep’s 30 victories are already six more than she scored last year, when a prolonged calf injury and waning belief conspired to produce what she called her worst professional season.
Halep was utterly magnificent in a 6-1, 6-2 demolition of No.4 Paula Badosa. The match was over in 60 minutes, and her performance under the eyes of those in the Royal Box was regal in every respect.
“It means a lot that I’m back in a quarterfinals after I struggled so much with injuries and self-confidence,” Halep said to reporters afterward. “But I’m working hard every day. I feel like if I do that, I will get better.
“I feel strong physically. I feel very good mentally. So I think everything comes together. I feel I have power on court.”
5 - Amongst current female players, only Serena Williams (14) and Venus Williams (13) have reached more quarterfinals in #Wimbledon than Simona #Halep. Perpetual.@WTA @WTA_insider #Wimbledon2022 pic.twitter.com/F9Fa4EQnct— OptaAce (@OptaAce) July 4, 2022
The 2019 Wimbledon champion has made her reputation chasing down balls and playing relentless defense. Under new coach Patrick Mouratoglou, there’s been more of an emphasis on adding power to her serve. In her first Centre Court appearance since defeating Serena Williams three years ago in the final, some 1,087 days ago, Halep lost one point on her first serve in each set.
She finished with 17 winners, 10 more than Badosa, and only nine unforced errors. Oddly enough, it was Halep’s first win on grass over a Top 5 player. Halep has won 10 of 11 matches on grass this year; only Beatriz Haddad Maia (12) has more.
Anisimova also played an impressive, clinical match, defeating Harmony Tan 6-2, 6-3. She’s a win away from the semifinals – a level she first reached at a major more than three years ago in Paris.
“I think when I was 17, I didn’t really appreciate getting to the semifinals as much as I probably should,” the 20-year-old American said. “It only soaked in I think like a year later, understanding what that was, how much it actually meant to me.
“Yeah, just having over a year of not very good results, it really affects you. But when you have losses every week in early rounds, it’s very hard to find that motivation. I just kept going. It just took longer than I thought it would.”
These players have met three times before, with Halep winning two. Anisimova memorably won the first, in the quarterfinals at 2019 Roland Garros, taking down the defending champion 6-2, 6-4. Halep returned the favor the next year in Paris with an emphatic 6-0, 6-1 victory. The most recent meeting came 13 days ago, on the grass on Bad Homburg, where Halep won 6-2, 6-1.
“Of course, that match was a great match for me,” Halep said. “But I’m expecting a tough one. It’s quarterfinals at Wimbledon. I’m ready for it and I’m looking forward for it.”
Anisimova will be ready.
“I mean, I know I can do better,” she said. “I’m excited for the next round because I want more. I’m not completely satisfied with just a quarterfinal because my goal this year has been to win a Grand Slam.”
No.17 Elena Rybakina vs. Ajla Tomljanovic
After Tomljanovic became the first Australian woman to reach back-to-back quarterfinals at Wimbledon since Jelena Dokic at the turn of the century, 18-time Grand Slam singles champion Chris Evert called to congratulate her.
“She repeated, like, three times, `Ajla, you’re in the quarterfinals again,’ ” Tomljanovic related. “I think she repeated it because I wasn’t saying much, I was just kind of laughing at her. She just kept saying how happy she is for me.
“The fact that I kind of repeated what I did last year also solidifies that it wasn’t, I don’t know, a fluke I guess.”
Tomljanovic defeated Alize Cornet 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a match that clocked in at 2 hours and 37 minutes. Cornet ended Swiatek’s 37-match win streak in the third round but fell to the 29-year-old Australian for the second straight year at the All England Club.
Rybakina, a 23-year-old from Kazakhstan, lost two of three matches on grass coming in – to Shelby Rogers and Lesia Tsurenko – but Wimbledon seems to be her happy place. She’s beaten lucky loser CoCo Vandeweghe, Bianca Andreescu, Zheng Qinwen and, in the last round, Petra Martic by a count of 7-5, 6-3.
After reaching the fourth round last year in her debut, Rybakina is now a sparkling 7-1 at the All England Club and 17-6 on grass in her career. There were six more aces in that fourth-round match, running Rybakina’s Wimbledon total to 29 and a Hologic WTA Tour-leading 197 for the year. She’s won 40 of 46 service games (.870) and has yet to drop a set.
“Just play point by point, focus on my serve,” Rybakina said when asked how she did it. “I knew what I have to do. It just was the question of the focus."
Rybakina and Tomljanovic met once before, with Rybakina prevailing 6-4, 6-0 last year on the clay in Madrid.
“She’s got a big game,” Tomljanovic said of Rybakina. “I know that if she’s on, it’s going to be tough. If I can weather the storm but try to put my game as the priority and be aggressive first and move her, I think that’s going to be key. I don’t want to get in the exchange of her just bossing me around the court, which is what she does well.
“Just play good and confident tennis when it matters because I think at this level, that’s what’s going to make the next step.”