No.17 seed Elena Rybakina delivered a dazzling serving performance against Ajla Tomljanovic in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, firing 15 aces en route to a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory in 1 hour and 51 minutes.
The victory puts Rybakina into her first Grand Slam semifinal, and also means she is the first Kazakh in history to reach the last four of a major. Three Kazakh players had previously reached Grand Slam quarterfinals -- Yaroslava Shvedova, Yulia Putintseva and Rybakina herself at Roland Garros 2021.
No.23-ranked Rybakina had started 2022 strongly, reaching her sixth Hologic WTA Tour final in Adelaide before losing to then-World No.1 Ashleigh Barty. But her form was derailed by Covid in February and allergy issues in the spring. Prior to Wimbledon, Rybakina had not reached a quarterfinal since Indian Wells in March, and she had won only one grass-court match in two tournaments.
Rybakina, 22, will be the youngest of this year's Wimbledon semifinalists. This year marks the first time in the Open Era that three of the last four at Wimbledon are debutantes at this stage of a Slam.
Match management: Tomljanovic, contesting her second straight Wimbledon quarterfinal and also bidding to reach her first major semifinal, opened the match in formidable form. The Australian found two marvellous lobs to break Rybakina in a four-deuce third game for 2-1, and did not face a break point herself en route to maintaining her lead to wrap up the first set.
Indeed, No.44-ranked Tomljanovic conceded just five points on serve throughout the opener, and kept her unforced error count to a meagre three, against nine winners.
Rybakina's improved serve, along with some judicious touch, would be the key to turning the match around. She hit back at the start of the second set, breaking Tomljanovic with an efficient drop shot-volley combination for 2-0. After Tomljanovic levelled at 2-2, the drop shot sealed another break for Rybakina to move up 4-2.
In the second set, it was Rybakina's turn to be near-watertight on serve, conceding only one point behind her first delivery. As Tomljanovic struggled to keep up with the increased weight of shot, Rybakina reeled off seven straight games from 2-2 in the second set to lead 3-0 in the third.
Rybakina continued to dominate to extend her lead to 5-1, at which point the insurance break turned out to be useful. A slew of unforced errors saw her fail to serve out the match, and when she reached match point on the Tomljanovic serve at 5-2, her forehand found the net.
But stepping up to the line a second time, Rybakina made no mistake. She did not have to hit a groundstroke to close out the match, firing two service winners and two aces past Tomljanovic. Her second match point was converted, fittingly, with her 15th ace of the day.
Rybakina would finish with 34 winners to 28 unforced errors, while Tomljanovic tallied 14 winners to 21 unforced errors.
Rybakina on facing Simona Halep, to whom she has lost two three-setters in a row, in the semifinals: "It was very tough matches. I remember in Dubai I lost in the tiebreak, very close. At the US Open also, there I was a bit injured. In the end I just know that I have to play till the end because she's great fighter. No matter the score, just keep focusing on my game, on my plan. Just be more stable and also confident in some moments.
"The key, of course, is my serve, aggressive game. She's a great champion. She's moving really well, reading the game. I just try to do my best, focus on things which I can control: my serve, my shots, emotions. No matter what's happening, just to stay calm, keep playing point by point."