The first of the Wimbledon semi-finals will be contested between the number 14 seed, Garbiñe Muguruza and the unseeded, Magdalena Rybarikova. While Muguruza is into her second Wimbledon semi-final, Rybarikova has broken new ground and then some having never previously made it past the third round of a Slam! The pair are tied at 2-2 in their head-to-head.
Muguruza d. Kuznetsova, 6-3 6-4 (QF)
If you had just looked at the statistics for this match, you would probably think that Svetlana Kuznetsova was the more likely winner. The Russian player won a higher percentage of points behind her serve and at the net, and hit more winners and less unforced errors than Muguruza! In the end, it was a clutch display from Muguruza to prevail in straight sets under darkened skies over No.1 Court.
Muguruza faced two early break points in the first set at 1-1 *15-40 – Muguruza stepped up the offence on both, saving the second with a gorgeous backhand winner down-the-line. Kuznetsova didn’t really do enough to stay away from Muguruza’s more dangerous backhand side. After missing break points, Kuznetsova was then broken herself in the very next game on a lengthy rally with a forceful backhand from Muguruza doing the job. The Spaniard ran with the break and served out the set to 30. Muguruza served well although it felt like Kuznetsova could have done more on return.
Kuznetsova improved at the start of the second set and became more aggressive. Muguruza sat back a little, but her defence from the baseline was resolute. The Spaniard was nowhere near as offensive as she had been against Kerber where she made 54 net approaches. It was a different match-up though and her intensity was still there. Like the first set, Muguruza was clutch in the key moments – Muguruza hit a backhand into the corner, followed by a backhand drive volley winner to save break point at *0-1 *30-40. A few games later, Muguruza made the breakthrough as she stepped in to crush a forehand winner to break to lead *3-2.
Kuznetsova had mini-openings, most notably getting to deuce in Muguruza’s next service game, but she held on. Muguruza missed a couple of shockers up at the net when serving for the match at *5-4 – the serve rescued her as she served out the match to 30. In the end, the break points conversion were a key stat – Muguruza was 2/3 and Kuznetsova was 0/3.
Rybarikova d. Vandeweghe, 6-3 6-3 (QF)
Rybarikova’s slice-and-dice game proved too much for a very erratic, CoCo Vandeweghe in a surprisingly comfortable straight sets win that was played across two courts. Returning to the tour following surgery on her wrist and knee in February, just five months later Rybarikova is into a first Slam semi-final! It’s another fairytale story and Rybarikova is fully deserving of this run having knocked out the pre-tournament favourite in Karolina Pliskova in the second round. Backing up that win has been just as impressive.
Starting out on No.1 Court, Rybarikova got off to a good start by immediately breaking the Vandeweghe serve, not something that many have been able to do so far this tournament. Vandeweghe looked rather flat, but did work her way into the match with a series of solid holds. However, the American made no to little impression on Rybarikova’s service games. Vandeweghe lacked the sharpness from her previous matches where she was in control, this time being dictated by Rybarikova’s array of variety, notably the slice and some cracking lobs.
The pair were halted with Rybarikova leading 6-3 2-2 due to the rain and resumed under the Centre Court roof. I’d guessed the break and change of court would favour Vandeweghe. In fact, she was even more erratic than before and quickly dropped her serve with two double faults. Vandeweghe saved three match points on her serve, a potential turning point, but Rybarikova didn’t lose her focus and served out the match to love at *5-3. Vandeweghe lost her cool with the umpire over a call a few points from the end – she gave a pretty firm handshake at the end.
Well done, Magda!
Head-to-head record: The pair are tied at 2-2 in their head-to-head. Their last two matches were both decided in straight sets and it was Rybarikova who won their most recent encounter on the grass courts of Birmingham in 2015, 6-3 6-1!
Final thoughts: Muguruza and Rybarikova have been so, so impressive this tournament. I’m still trying to comprehend that Muguruza’s last match before Wimbledon was a 1-6 0-6 loss to Barbora Strycova in Eastbourne. Still, I had a good feeling for Muguruza pre-tournament after some encouraging displays in Birmingham and having read she was teaming up with Conchita Martinez in the absence of Sam Sumyk (to attend to family issues).
Muguruza has looked on it from the first match – she has used her serve to build the points so well and has played more aggressively than at any time of this year, looking to come forward and close at the net. The volleys haven’t always worked but she has persisted with the tactic. This was the case in her magnificent win over Kerber in the 4th round.
Rybarikova’s win over Pliskova remains for me as the most impressive performance of the tournament so far. The Slovak player has kept on building during the tournament and has now won 18 (!) matches on grass this year. Her variety has been gorgeous to watch and her nerve has held up too in brand new situations through the past two rounds.
This will no doubt be a tricky match-up for Muguruza to deal with as Rybarikova has befuddled some top class players through the tournament. However, based on Slam experience and her level and intensity this week in the key moments, i’m going for Muguruza to reach her second Wimbledon final.