Czech Republic’s Barbora Strycova celebrates winning a women’s quarterfinal match against Britain’s Johanna Konta on day eight of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Czech Republic’s Barbora Strycova celebrates winning a women’s quarterfinal match against Britain’s Johanna Konta on day eight of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)|Associated Press

Wimbledon Thursday Women’s Semis: Abrams picks Serena Williams vs. Barbora Strycova, Simona Halep vs. Elina Svitolina

Matches start at 8 am EDT,

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

The Championships
Thursday, July 11, 2019
Women’s Semifinals

Barbora Strycova over Serena Williams
Barbora Strycova, the 54th ranked woman in the world, finds herself just one win away from her first Grand Slam final at the advanced age of 33. The delightful Czech has played the fortnight of her life, and came through a beast of a draw, beating Tsurenko, Siegemund, Bertens, Mertens, and Konta to make this run and to set up a soon-to-be memorable clash with the aging, slowing, non-repentant Yankee, Serena Williams. Williams, who is looking for her record 24th Grand Slam singles trophy, came through the easiest draw of the four semifinalists, where she beat Gatto-Montirone (#161), Juvan (#133), Goerges (#17), Suarez Navaarro (#31), and Riske (#28) may be the easiest draw of any semi-finalist in the Open Era, which began way back in 1968. The “average ranking” of her opponents was #74, with her most accomplished opponent ranked outside of the Top 16. To say that she had a cakewalk is to put it mildly, but in all fairness, a player can only play the opponents put in front of her, and the higher ranked players in her quarter (Barty, Kerber, Bertens, Stephens, and Kvitova) all lost. Perhaps more significantly, Williams is still smarting from her out-of-body experience in the finals of the U.S. Open where she threw a hissy-fit in her loss to Naomi Osaka. In that match she blamed the umpire by calling him a “thief”, accused him (and the tournament and tennis in general) of being sexist by penalizing her for her boorish behavior and not any of the men—when there were no men who acted as objectionably as she did, and then made the match about her, instead of giving credit to a new, novice Grand Slam champion, who deserved to be able to celebrate her big win. Much has recently been written about her (10 months later) apologizing to Osaka, but what Tennis Australia actually reported—just on Tuesday) was that “. . . . after her journey of self-reflection, Williams concluded she was right to respond the way she did at Flushing Meadows.” This doesn’t sound like someone who has offered contrition of any sorts, and it wouldn’t shock me if we see more of the same childish, uncontrolled behavior as she tries to extricate herself from a difficult semi-final match up with Strycova, who the oddsmakers see as a big underdog (+285). The Czech has an interesting game to give the close-to-retirement Williams fits on the grass. She volleys well, she chips and charges, she returns reasonably well, and she is only 5’5”, which may seem like a problem, but I think it gives her the ability to be agile and bend low for volleys and half-volleys. I like Strycova to surprise Williams and pull an upset. Then I’ll wait to see how upset Williams gets.

Simona Halep over Elina Svitolina
This “other” semi-final match should be really entertaining. Both of these ladies are terrific athletes, and because neither is particularly physically imposing, this should be a match of strategy, stroke-production, and ultimately, guile. As I’ve mentioned before, Halep has been surprisingly quiet this year, and that has caught me by surprise. The Romanian is an absolute bulldog of a competitor, and if her game matches her mindset, she will find a way to win this match. She has survived a few minefields in her draw by beating her compatriot Buzarnescu in the second round, the resurgent Azarenka in the third, the exciting American teen Coco Gauff in the Round of 16, before just pummeling China’s Shuai Zhang in the quarters. She has shown her typical fearlessness, and a taste for blood, perhaps bourgeoned by playing on the grass, where aggressiveness is rewarded. But equally compelling has been the popular 24-year-old Ukranian Elina Svitolina. Back in February in the California dessert, Svitolina looked like she was going to make 2019 her year before both she and boyfriend Gael Monfils came up lame with bad injuries to interrupt each of their impressive season starts. Now, she appears not only fully healed, but hungry and effective. She was having trouble with Gasparyan in the second round before the Russian had to retire, took out Sakkari in three sets, but then had little trouble with Martic in the Round of 16 before she just routined Muchova in the quarters, so she seems to be racing with a full head of steam going into this match. The reason I like Halep to win, however, comes down to experience. Halep has been here before, having won a Grand Slam tournament, and has competed with the best at the later stages of the big shows. When push comes to shove, I like Halep to simply out compete Svitolina, because they both play some wonderful tennis. And the beneficiaries of that will likely be the fans.

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