Tennis: Barty has Kerber on her mind, Pliskova prepares for big-hitter Sabalenka in semis

AFP , Thursday 8 Jul 2021

Aryna Sabalenka
Belarusian tennis player Aryna Sabalenka (AFP)

One is motivated by a significant anniversary, another rediscovered the grass is definitely greener for her form, a third is driven on by "brutal" critics and the fourth, the girl with a tiger tattoo, finds herself in unknown Grand Slam territory.

The stage is set for the women's Wimbledon semi-finals on Thursday with three of the contenders new to the experience.

Headline names such as 2019 champion Simona Halep, four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka and seven-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams are missing but there is the present world number one and two former number ones in the last four.

Ashleigh Barty's clash with Angelique Kerber would be fit for a final, pitching the world number one against the 2018 Wimbledon champion.

The other semi is an intriguing duel between former world number one Karolina Pliskova and the powerful second seed from Belarus, Aryna Sabalenka.

Barty is motivated by a higher purpose.

For it is 50 years ago her fellow indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley won the first of her two Wimbledon titles.

Barty has worn a specially-designed dress as a tribute to the 'iconic' scallop one her "friend and mentor" wore in that 1971 final.

"It's a really special anniversary for a lot of Australians, but for indigenous Australians in particular," said Barty at the outset of her not always convincing campaign.

"I think this is a really special one."

Barty's serve has been found wanting at pivotal moments -- even her quarter-final opponent Ajla Tomljanovic broke her twice in their second set -- but she believes her form is coming together.

"I think obviously play on grass is very different," she said after her quarter-final.

"The grass season for me, it's one tournament, pretty cut-throat.

"I certainly wasn't as loose as I have been with errors and kind of ill-timed lapses. But I felt really sharp today."

- 'Huge drama' -

Barty, though, knows she will have to move up a gear if she is to see off Kerber.

The 33-year-old German has bounced back to top form after first round exits at both the Australian and French Open.

"I know one of Angie's greatest assets is the fact that she can run and hunt and put the ball in an awkward situation to nullify my aggression and my weapons at times," said Barty.

"It's a really fine balance."

Kerber, 33, has improved as the Championships have progressed from earning along with her second round opponent Sara Sorribes Tormo a five-minute standing ovation for their three hour marathon.

The 25th seed has gone on to impressive wins over higher-seeded duo Coco Gauff and then Karolina Muchova.

"I have always in my career had some ups and downs but I was always believing I could come back because I know what I can do," said Kerber.

Pliskova too has never doubted herself despite dropping out of the top 10 -- she is ranked 13 -- after being a regular since 2016.

A first appearance in a Wimbledon semi-final has justified that self-belief -- she is yet to drop a set and has only had her serve broken three times.

The 29-year-old Czech has hit 40 aces and she served one with full force directed at her doubters after she beat Swiss Viktorija Golubic on Tuesday.

"The Internet is the biggest problem," said Pliskova who had failed to get to the second week of a Slam in her last five outings.

"Not that I would really read all the messages and all the comments, but sometimes you just see something or like some articles.

"I think they can be quite brutal. I was five years in the top 10. Then one week I'm not in the top 10, and it's like huge drama, especially in my country."

Sabalenka has defied the sceptics questioning her second seed status as she has broken new ground in reaching the last four having never before got past the fourth round of a major.

The 23-year-old's tiger tattoo on her left thigh -- due to her being born in 1998 the Year of the Tiger -- led to her parents not speaking to her for a week.

However, she has lived up to the image of the tiger both in power and fighting spirit in eye-catching wins in the past two rounds over Elena Rybakina and Ons Jabeur to earn her place in the last four.

Pliskova will need no reminding of the 23-year-old Sabalenka's battling qualities.

When they last met in Cincinnati in 2018 Sabalenka beat Pliskova having saved two match points.

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