After 10 days of shocks and surprises at Wimbledon, we're down to our final four. Simona Halep, the 2019 champion, and third-seeded Ons Jabeur have played stellar down the stretch, but their respective opponents have showed a lot of determination.
The first semifinal pits World No.2 Jabeur against the surprise of The Championships in No.104 Tatjana Maria, who is making her first major semifinal at the age of 34. No matter the outcome, history will be made. A win for Jabeur and she becomes the first Arab and North African woman to make a major final. A win for Maria and she would become the lowest-ranked woman to make the Wimbledon final.
The second semifinal sees two-time major champion Halep, who is riding a 12-match Wimbledon win streak, take on No.17 seed Elena Rybakina. It's a match that pits the Hologic WTA Tour's ace leader against the best returner of the past decade. Their past two matches have been tight and went the distance.
The two underdogs have a history of troubling their more experienced opponents. Can Jabeur and Halep handle the pressure?
Play begins at 1:30 p.m. local time.
No.2 Ons Jabeur vs. Tatjana Maria, First on Centre Court
The case for Jabeur
While her wonderfully diverse game sometimes defies conventional logic, Ons Jabeur’s steady rise through the Hologic WTA Tour has been as consistent as a clock. Since 2016, her year-end rankings have been, in order, No.170, No.83, No.60, No.51, No.31, No.7 -- to her current and career-best No.2.
“I honestly expected myself to do better after juniors, because I was one of the good ones," Jabeur told reporters. "Seeing other players from my age doing better and I wasn’t there, I was kind of jealous. But I also tried to be patient. Everything happens for a reason, and I believe I deserve to be here right now this year.”
Tatjana Maria, Jabeur’s good friend and a mother of two young daughters, has also won five matches, but she’s nearly 35 years old and ranked No.103. And, unlike No.5 seed Maria Sakkari and No.12 Jelena Ostapenko – players who fell victim to Maria’s subtle slice-and dice game -- Jabeur has the volleying skills and the deft drop shots to combat her craftiness.
None of the four semifinalists have anything approaching this kind of momentum. In the past 70 days, Jabeur has won 21 of 23 matches -- and at least five each in successive tournaments in Madrid, Rome, Berlin and Wimbledon. She’s won all 10 matches on grass and is a spectacular 20-2 on the turf over the past two years.
In the first set against Marie Bouzkova, the 27-year-old Jabeur was out of sorts, the pressure of being favored to win perhaps starting to manifest itself. Well, she solved that little problem by winning 12 of 14 games. This one shouldn’t be as difficult. -- Greg Garber
The case for Maria
It's remarkable enough that Tatjana Maria has become the oldest first-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the Open Era, and the first mother of two to make that stage in nearly half a century. But the manner in which she's done it puts her in a different lineage: the old-school grass-court specialist making her big-stage breakthrough at a relatively late point in their career.
Maria, mother of two, brings family business to The Championships
In the past decade, Barbora Strycova, Magdalena Rybarikova and Kirsten Flipkens -- first-time semifinalists in 2019, 2017 and 2013 respectively -- fit this mold. Throw it back further, and there's 1998 runner-up Nathalie Tauziat, 1996 semifinalist Meredith McGrath and Lori McNeil, who made her second Grand Slam semifinal at the age of 31 in 1993.
The lesson is obvious. When a mastery of the slice and an affinity for the net are allied with the strategic nous brought by years of experience, it's a combination that can destabilize harder-hitting, higher-ranked opposition. Maria has blunted three seeds' power -- No.26 Sorana Cirstea, No.5 Maria Sakkari and No.12 Jelena Ostapenko -- then outthought and outfought younger compatriot Jule Niemeier in a battle of tactics and touch.
The never-say-die attitude is the last and most crucial piece of the Maria puzzle. She trailed Astra Sharma by a set in the first round and Cirstea by a double break in their decider. Sakkari led 5-2 in the second set; Ostapenko by a set and 4-1 (then two match points), then 2-0 in the decider; Niemeier by a break in both the second and third sets. But Maria pulled off a Houdini act to steal victory each time.
Maria already has experience of defeating Jabeur, winning 6-1, 6-4 in the first round of Linz 2017. The Tunisian is the favorite this time, but as Bouzkova demonstrated for a set in their quarterfinal, she can still be lured into impatience by an opponent who refuses to be put away. If Maria can keep things close, her record this fortnight when the scoreboard gets tight suggests she shouldn't be counted out. -- Alex Macpherson
No.16 Simona Halep vs. No.17 Elena Rybakina, Second on Centre Court
The case for Halep
For all the talk of her superiority on clay and hard courts, Halep's grass-court prowess has generally been downplayed, even after her stunning 2019 run to the Wimbledon title. Now she stands two wins away from her third major title and transforming The Championships into her most successful major, reinvigorating a career that was teetering toward retirement 12 months ago.
By defeating No.4 seed Paula Badosa in the fourth round, Halep advanced to her fifth Wimbledon quarterfinal. Among active players, only Serena and Venus Williams have reached more. With her win against Anisimova, Halep is now the first player to win 12 consecutive matches at The Championships since Serena won 20 from 2015 to 2018. Wimbledon is her sixth semifinal of the season. Only World No.1 Iga Swiatek has more.
Halep, 30, has lost 28 games en route to the semifinals, the fewest among the semifinalists. While her returning numbers have been outstanding, as one would expect -- she leads the final four in Return Games Won (54%) -- it has been her serving that's paved the way to her dominant fortnight. And it's what she'll need against Rybakina.
Halep has been broken only seven times in five matches and, surprisingly, leads the final group in second serve points won, winning 62% for the tournament. In nearly every other major serving category, she is second only to Rybakina -- first serve points won (72%), break points saved (65%). Halep may not light up the ace leaderboard, but she is more than holding her own at the service line.
Experience has been a difference-maker in the past two meetings between Halep and Rybakina. Their memorable clash in the 2020 Dubai final was voted the match of the year that season. Halep fought off Rybakina's power game to edge her in a deciding tiebreak to capture her 20th title. They faced again last fall in the third round of the US Open. Halep again won in three. -- Courtney Nguyen
The case for Rybakina
Long live our new Ace Queen, Elena Rybakina. The 23-year-old has hit 44 aces in her five wins this fortnight, bringing her total for the season up to 212, which leads all players. Rybakina’s serve is a fearsome shot, which she knows is pivotal.
“Very aggressive tennis,” Rybakina said when asked to describe her play on Monday. “I just know that I have this gift. I'm tall and I play really fast. It's effortless, I would say. It's not something I'm working [on] in the gym or something. This is my weapon, and I'm just trying to use it as much as I can.”
In her first four matches, Rybakina was pushed to 5-5 six times, but she used her service reliability to take all of those sets. Coming into the quarterfinals, Rybakina had won 87%of her service games, the best of all players to make it that far.
But Rybakina is hardly a one-shot wonder, and behind the Kazakh’s stoic demeanor lies a variety of effective strokes. Combining solid backhands and drop shots with her stellar delivery, she pulled off her first comeback of the fortnight in the quarterfinals, ousting Ajla Tomljanovic from a set down.
A tough test awaits Rybakina when she takes on Halep, who is on a 12-match winning streak at Wimbledon. Halep is one of the best players at defusing a power game, and the former World No.1 beat Rybakina in their two previous completed matches.
However, Rybakina came close to the upset each time, with only a handful of points separating her from Halep in those meetings. A few more of those big serves, which have been coming so easily to Rybakina this season could tip the scales in her direction this time. -- Jason Juzwiak