Semi-Superlatives: Analyzing the Final Four Wimbledon Women
It’s been that kind of major tournament, kids. The kind that’s starting to happen more often, but still feels novel enough not to cause Chaos Fatigue (the likes of which often suffered in the golf world). Nearly two weeks ago, the final four all found themselves on shortlists to do well at this year’s Wimbledon. Now Eugenie Bouchard, Simona Halep, Lucie Safarova, and Petra Kvitova find themselves on a shortlist in line for a golden opportunity. For three, it is a chance for maiden Grand Slam glory. For Kvitova, it is a chance for redemption, a moment to remind us all of the bombshell ball-bashing she exhibited en route to her first Wimbledon title in 2011.
All four ladies bring something unique to the table. So, as the Wimbledon Class of 2014 heads to graduation, let’s take a look at their yearbook profiles:
Most Surprising: Lucie Safarova (CZE)
At once, Safarova’s debut major semifinal feels out of nowhere and long overdue. The 27-year-old reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal as a teenager, upsetting defending champion Amélie Mauresmo to reach the last eight in Australia. She upset then-No. 2 Justine Henin at the Open Gaz de France a few weeks later, looking poised to lead a next generation of players with her fearsome lefty swing. The years that followed yielded mixed results, but Safarova has looked better than ever in 2014. Her season resumé looks unimpressive at first blush; that is, until you learn more than half of her losses have come to top 10 players. Safarova had a match point against eventual champion Li Na in Australia and had Maria Sharapova on the ropes in two close encounters in the spring.
She needed a break, and she got it at Wimbledon. With Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska both losing before the quarterfinals, Safarova had things all her own way against Tereza Smitkova and Ekaterina Makarova to guarantee a Czech name in the Wimbledon final. Safarova has played the top players tough, and this dose of confidence might help get her past the finish line.
Most Hyped: Eugenie Bouchard (CAN)
The dreaded “H” word is often used derisively, but make no mistake: Canada’s first top 10 player in nearly 30 years has generated most of the buzz herself, and has deserved every bit of it over the course of a breakout season. Eugenie Bouchard’s summer is already one to remember, and it’s not even half over. Following a springtime lull after barreling into her first major semifinal in Melbourne, Bouchard blazed through the final three weeks of the clay court season. She parlayed a maiden WTA title in Nurnberg into a second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, falling to eventual champion Sharapova in three grueling sets. Seeing Bouchard win 10 of her last 11 matches on clay obscured the fact that the Canadian was playing on her least favorite surface. The 2012 Wimbledon junior champion loves the lawns of the All-England Club and proved it with an emphatic run to yet another semifinal.
Though it must be said she benefited from a softened draw – Bouchard beat the conquerors of both Serena Williams and Sharapova in back-to-back matches – the 20-year-old has been in imperious form all the same, not dropping a set in five matches. With No. 3 seed Simona Halep looming in the the semifinals, Bouchard has the opportunity to impress on paper, take a third top 10 win at a major, and reach her first Grand Slam final.
Most Casual: Simona Halep (ROU)
The last three major championships have been cataclysmic for top seeds of all country and caliber.
Simona Halep evidently never got the memo.
The young Romanian has reached the second week at the last four major tournaments, and boasts a second straight Slam semi, this coming on what many have deemed her worst surface. Barring the six game lull that led to an unnecessarily complicated three-setter against Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, Halep has played the part of the reliable big name to perfection. Her first week was never going to be complicated with clay courters Sorana Cirstea and Carla Suarez Navarro anchoring her 1/16 of the draw, but both Belinda Bencic and Zarina Diyas are youngsters with talent that belie their rankings. Halep dismissed both with the loss of eight games between them. Playing 2013 finalist Sabine Lisicki today, Halep could have been seen as the underdog against Germany’s premier grass-courter. In the opening volleys of their quarterfinal encounter, Lisicki was firing well off the serve and forehand, exhibiting little of the shoulder issue that plagued her 24 hours earlier against Yaroslava Shvedova. From 1-4 down, however, Halep found another gear and left Lisicki in the dust. The Romanian finished the match with only 16 winners, but easily elicited a dozen more forced errors from her overmatched opponent.
Hypothetically, it will be a big ask for Halep to win three matches in three days to reach her first Wimbledon final. Technically, she’s already won the first two matches in less than an hour each. Halep and Bouchard played an entertaining three-setter in Indian Wells; their contrasting styles provide the foundation for a budding rivalry that looks to kick into high gear on our sport’s biggest stage.
Most Destined: Petra Kvitova (CZE)
Rounding out the semifinalists and leading the well-flanked Czech contingent, Petra Kvitova is the only remaining major champion in the draw. Kvitova first won Wimbledon three years ago with a flurry of winners and an overflowing fountain of potential. Finishing one match from the top of the world rankings in 2011, Kvitova began the next season as the presumptive No. 1 until Maria Sharapova took her out of contention in the semifinals of the Australian Open. The 24-year-old Czech powerhouse has only reached one major semifinal since that disappointment Down Under, with sudden injuries and illnesses often derailing ostensibly unassailable progress. A year ago, Kvitova was in a similar position at the All-England Club before a virus contributed to a three-set loss to Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens. Thus far, Kvitova has looked happy and healthy, book-ending four easy wins with a thrilling victory over Venus Williams in the third round. Undefeated against Lucie Safarova, she had a tough match against her compatriot in Eastbourne only to eek out the victory in a final set tiebreaker. She is a combined 1-2 against the players in the top half of the draw, the lone victory against a pre-2014 Eugenie Bouchard. On paper, a second Wimbledon win will not be easy.
There is a natural tension that surfaces when one discusses Petra Kvitova. Her talent is undeniable, her capabilities already proven. Her potential? Far from fulfilled. Kvitova may never be the dominant player we once believed she could be. She may never be No. 1 and she may never challenge records set by compatriots like Martina Navratilova. Maybe that’s ok; not everyone is built to be a legend. But she is built to be a champion, one certainly capable of taking advantage of this, an ideal situation at a major tournament. There was an air of inevitability as Kvitova clubbed her way to victory in 2011. This year feels like destiny, and whether she capitalizes remains firmly in her hands.
Love it, another really great piece. A brilliant semi-final line-up and can’t wait for both. Petra for the title.
If Genie has a “soft draw,” how would you describe the other semifinalists’ draws?
Average ranking of opponents: Bouchard 32, Kvitova 62, Safarova 74, Halep 82
I addressed Safarova’s draw, and noted Kvitova and Halep having to play former champions/finalists. As for Genie, there’s a difference between soft and softened, as I said. Soft implies the draw was just easy. Softened refers to being in the same quarter as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and facing neither of them. Bouchard’s play has spoken for itself, but it was something to mention, just as it was during the French Open when Sharapova made it to the semis without having to play Serena despite being drawn into her quarter.