Wednesday 21 November 2018

Quick-fire Kerber sets up Williams final showdown

Angelique Kerber. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Angelique Kerber. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Simon Briggs

Angelique Kerber has been here before. In her career-best season of 2016 - during which she won both hard-court slams - Kerber also reached the Wimbledon final.

Yet her dream of emulating childhood idol Steffi Graf was swept aside in just 81 minutes as Serena Williams turned in such a peerless serving performance that Kerber was often relegated to the status of a spectator.

Two years later, Kerber is back, after much soul-searching and self-discovery.

Starting the 2017 season as world No 1 turned out to be a burden for this charming but understated woman, who felt her poise disintegrating interview by interview, photoshoot by photoshoot.

At the start of 2018, Kerber decided it was time to put herself first. As a result, her performances in press conferences might have slipped, but those on the match court have been revitalised.

Kerber reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open and the quarter-finals of the French Open, losing to world No. 1 Simona Halep both times.

Halep fell in the third round here and it was Jelena Ostapenko - another major champion, who won at Roland Garros last year - who stood in Kerber's way yesterday.

If the best tennis matches are contrasts of styles, this first semi-final should have been a classic.

Ostapenko plays tennis the way we all play in our dreams - swashbuckling power and freedom off both wings, with the occasional deft drop shot to break up the blitzkrieg - whereas Kerber's chief virtue is her obduracy.

Yesterday's rallies involved rapier thrusts from one end and desperate parries from the other.

The match felt like it was being played on fast-forward and Kerber came away a 6-3, 6-3 winner after just 68 minutes.

"Last year, things weren't like I was expecting actually," said Kerber (below) afterwards. "Now I want to make the priority to playing tennis, to focusing on just what I love, finding my motivation back."

Disappointingly, this is the third straight year that Wimbledon's women's semi-finals have failed to deliver a deciding set between them.

For the last three-setter on the second Thursday, you have to go back to Garbine Muguruza's 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over Agnieszka Radwanska in 2015.

Part of the problem is the high turnover of the women's game. Yesterday was only Ostapenko's second major semi-final, while Julia Goerges - who was crushed 6-2, 6-4 by Williams - was appearing on this stage for the first time.

Williams put on a superb display of power and athleticism to reach her 30th grand slam singles final.

The 23-time champion, who will equal Margaret Court's all-time record if she beats Kerber tomorrow, needed just an hour and 10 minutes to see off Goerges.

"It's crazy. I don't even know how to feel because I didn't expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back in 16 months," said Williams, who is bidding for an eighth Wimbledon title.

"I just feel when I don't have anything to lose I can play so free and that's kind of what I'm doing.

"It's not inevitable for me to be playing like this. I had multiple surgeries and nearly didn't make it when I gave birth. I remember when I couldn't even walk to my mailbox, so I'm enjoying every moment."

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Dubliner Georgia Drummy and her American partner Alexa Noel, who is only 15, beat British duo Amelia Bissett and Morgan Cross 6-2, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals of the girls' doubles.

Wimbledon,

Live, from 12.30 BBC One and Two

Irish Independent

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