The world number one, Serena Williams is into her eight consecutive Slam semi-final and 32nd overall. In stark contrast, her semi-final opponent on Thursday is into her first. A hearty congrats to Elena Vesnina!
Vesnina produced a simply stunning display to overwhelm Dominika Cibulkova, 6-2 6-2 out on Court No.1 on Tuesday. Both players had required extra-time finishes on Monday, winning their fourth round matches with a 9-7 third set scoreline. While Vesnina was also out playing doubles on Monday night, Cibulkova’s match against Radwanska was by far the more physical. In fact, Cibulkova even commented in her press conference that she thought it was her toughest ever match. The Slovak player was understandably flat out of the blocks, not moving and hitting with her usual intensity.
Take nothing away from Vesnina who didn’t give Cibulkova an opportunity to gain a foothold in the match. Vesnina played as clean a match you’ll ever likely see her play; the Russian player hit 22 winners to 10 unforced errors, didn’t face one break point and won six out of six points up at the net. There looked to be potential for a change in momentum once Cibulkova got on the board at 1-4 in the second set, saving two break points in the process. Vesnina was taken to deuce in her next service game but dug in to hold. Serving for the match and a place in a first Slam semi-final at *5-2, Vesnina served it out to love!
Serena needed just the one break of serve in each set to overcome Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-4 6-4 in the second match on Centre Court. It was actually a spirited effort from Pavs who gave a very respectable account of herself. In both sets, she faltered on serve at *4-4 and that was it! One of the narratives for Pavlyuchenkova’s run to the quarters here has been improved fitness. In my opinion, the Russian player has always been capable of hitting form and it just seemed this was one of those tournaments where everything clicked. I’ll remain wary about whether she can build positively on this tournament but it’s definitely been a good week.
For Serena, the most pleasing aspect of her game in the last three rounds has been the serve. The first serve percentage has jumped up to the high 60’s (at 74% vs. Beck, 69% vs. Pavs) and while she was only winning one-third of points behind the second serve in her quarter-final match, she dropped just four points behind the first serve which was her best percentage of the tournament so far.
Head-to-head record: Serena leads Elena, 4-0 in their head-to-head with all four wins coming in straight sets. The pair haven’t played since Beijing in 2013 where Serena won, 6-4 6-2. The pair have never played before on grass.
Interesting stat (s): There have been some fabulous tennis stories this year and Vesnina’s comeback is definitely one that warrants attention. Vesnina began her year at #115 in the world and was forced to qualify for the Australian Open where she suffered a heartbreaking loss in the first round of qualifying to Lin Zhu, 3-6 6-4 7-9.
Since then, Vesnina has gone from strength-to-strength with quarter-finals in Doha (as a qualifier), finals in Charleston (as a qualifier), quarter-finals in Strasbourg, quarter-finals in Eastbourne and now semi-finals in Wimbledon. Vesnina has posted a 35-12 W-L record this year and is set to leap back into the world’s top 30 in next week’s rankings.
Final thoughts: This will be a tough ask for Vesnina but she will likely be beaming with her achievements at this tournament, no matter how the match unfolds. If she can bring the level she summoned against Cibulkova and the consistency she’s produced on the WTA tour all year then this won’t be a straightforward match for Serena.
The fact this is a first Slam semi-final for Vesnina may have an impact. She handled the situation of her first Slam quarter-final marvellously well and spoke in her post-match interview about trying to relax and enjoy the experience. The semi-finals on Centre though are a huge step up from the quarters. Serena’s serve is starting to find its rhythm and the world number one has won eight of her nine Wimbledon semi-finals, losing her first one against sister, Venus.
Here’s hoping for a competitive semi-final… Give it your best shot, Elena!