SIMONA Halep proved that a high seeding need not spell disaster when she won 11 games in succession to battle back from a 4-1 deficit to beat last year’s finalist Sabine Lisicki in straight sets and reach the semi-finals.
The French Open finalist, she had to play second fiddle to Maria Sharapova in Paris, but on the grass of Centre Court in front of royalty, she was an impressive warm-up act ahead of the Andy Murray match. The men’s defending champion failed to live up to the crowd’s and his own high hopes, but the women’s No 3 seed recovered from a slow start to leave her just one match away from her second Grand Slam final in a row.
“She started very well and she was serving strong. I was a little bit lost on court,” said Halep. “Then I just wanted to keep in the rallies and play point by point. I came back very well. I found a way to play my style. I stayed very aggressive, very close to the baseline and I opened the court up very well and found the angles.”
When it clicked, it clicked and, from being so in control, Lisicki had no response as the Romanian powered to a 6-4 victory in the first set and then rattled through the second 6-0.
The experience of playing so deep into the French Open is not always a positive as players struggle to make the transition from clay to grass but while the Roland Garros winners, Rafa Nadal and Sharapova, are already out, Halep says the experience and the confidence boost she distilled from her performance in Paris has benefited her as she has progressed into the latter stages.
“I can handle the pressure now because I have the experience from the Australian Open quarter-finals and the French Open final. I feel relaxed now. Focused as well. I want to enjoy every match,” she added.
“My dream is to win the title of Grand Slam but it is not easy. But now I feel more prepared than at the French Open. So maybe here it will happen.”
Her advance into another semi-final sets up a meeting with Eugenie Bouchard and victory would not only take her into Saturday’s final, it would also give her the opportunity to move to No 2 in the world rankings. But Bouchard is a player on fine form and with no shortage of confidence of her own.
Out on Court No 1, she defeated Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4. The junior champion at the All England Club just a couple of years ago, her ascent since then has surprised some and unnerved others but she has always expected it.
“Since I was young I have always been self-confident,” said the young Canadian. “I’ve always believed in myself and was determined to do as well as I could in anything I did. I mean, when I was nine I decided to be a professional tennis player. For me being a professional tennis player as I started playing more and more I really had concrete dreams of winning a Grand Slam. Every time I play, I realise, ‘Okay, I can play with these top girls’. Playing my first full year on the pro tour last year really showed me that.”
This will be her third successive Grand Slam semi-final appearance and she knows that with so many of the players seeded above her already out, she has a good chance to improve on that and even lift the trophy at the weekend. A big hitter, she is unfazed by meeting Halep, who recognises the danger posed by the 20-year-old. “I think her style is dangerous on grass. She plays fast and she stays very close to the baseline,” said Halep.
Bouchard is fearless, though, as she has been throughout the tournament. “I’m excited to be in the semis but I’m never satisfied. So definitely I want to go one step further. I played some great players when I lost in the semis. You don’t win every single time. But I’m going to try to play a little bit like I played [against Kerber]. I try not to even think about specifically what the score is. I try to go out and concentrate on each point and play the right way. When I go for it, usually it works in my favour.”
Having won the junior event here, she says she feels at home on the courts of SW19.
“Winning that junior title is still my proudest accomplishment of my career. It propelled me into the pro circuit and I’m proud of that,” she said. “But I played here last year, played a match on Centre Court and got through to the third round. Even last year I felt that I belonged so I don’t feel that it is a surprise that I am doing even better this year but I am happy. I love this tournament.”
The last time they met was on the hard courts at Indian Wells. Halep won that day but it doesn’t put a dent in Bouchard’s confidence, the single-minded performer says it was an education. “I learned a little bit about her game. I think she is playing well and she can change direction really well on the court. So I’m going to be ready for that and really just try to take my chances and go for it. I want to leave it all out on the court. It’s the semis so I have to expect the toughest match ever.”