Never mind that Julia Goerges had never played a quarterfinal at Wimbledon or any major for that matter. Once her momentum ignited Tuesday, it brought every facet of her game together in a big way. That it all happened at Wimbledon had to be particularly sweet for the German. She is appearing in her 42nd Grand Slam tournament at age 29.
“Wow, it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know what to say,” Goerges told the BBC immediately after defeating her friend Kiki Bertens, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1. “Kiki was fighting from the beginning. [It’s] never easy playing a friend and especially when you know each other so well. I tried to manage to stay calm.”
Goerges’s run to the semifinals of Wimbledon is even more preposterous, considering that for the last five years she never advanced beyond the first round at SW19.
“After five first-round loses I’ve certainly grown,” Goerges said.
She will next face Serena Williams, who — on Tuesday — took three sets as well to eliminate unexpected quarterfinalist Camila Giorgi, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
“[I’ll] sort it out with [my] team, look at some tactics,” Goerges said, after being asked what she would do against Serena. “I think every match starts from zero.”
That also could be an apt way to describe what initially happened Tuesday on Court 1. Goerges seemed a touch sensitive to the occasion and slow off the mark, allowing Bertens to impose pressure and win the opener with only one break of serve to her advantage.
“Both have very good serves,” Rennae Stubbs said, calling the match for ESPN. “They are going to take advantage of one-two tennis. Both didn’t expect to be in this position, but know they can be in a semi.”
Goerges served first in the second set, but had to save two break points. Fans held out hope that she’d reverse the momentum. They were pleasantly surprised when Goerges broke to win a lengthy set in which the German gained a break lead, lost it, and then took it back at the very end. A few specific dimensions of Goerges’s game enabled her to turn the tide.
“If you don’t move well [on grass] you don’t play well on grass,” Stubbs said, referring to Goerges and her improved footspeed. “If you don’t move well you tend to be late. Now with the movement better she can get to the ball.”
Although Bertens’ level fell significantly after losing the second, the opposite was true for Goerges. Her game was impenetrable. Everything worked in her favor. She won 12 of 12 points off her second serve and 57 percent of second return points. Those shots were consistently deep, pinning Bertens to the baseline with no option available but to commit an error on a high-risk shot.
Goerges’s smart tennis won this quarterfinal: She displayed a deadly kick serve, created unreturnable angled shots, and moved from point to point with a solid attitude. It was simply about the tennis ball.
“That kick serve, which 10 years ago you would never have used on a grass court, but that one kicked up and went into Bertens’ body,” Stubbs said excitedly, after Goerges left Bertens on her back foot once again.
In contrast to the cat-and-mouse affair between Daria Kasatkina and Angelique Kerber, which Kerber won, plus the slugfest between Jelena Ostapenko and Dominic Cibulkova, which Ostapenko won, Bertens-Goerges seemed to carry a serious tone. The tenor of the match seemed to flow from their careers and how they’ve struggled to reach this most improbable point.
Goerges rose to a career high of number 14 at the close of 2017, after having reached five finals during the year. In 2018 she won her fifth career title in Auckland, advanced to the semifinals in Doha, and then made her top-10 debut in early February. Ironically, she lost to Bertens in the final at Charleston this spring. But the day was not your usual finals day at this WTA Premier event. Both Bertens and Goerges had to play two matches on the same day due to cold, rainy weather. Goerges was scheduled second on Sunday and then had under two hours to recover, before facing Bertens. Kiki admitted later that Goerges did not play her best.
Bertens, too, has suffered setbacks recently. At a routine medical exam she was worried she had thyroid cancer in 2016. Concentrating on her tennis career was difficult until she was cleared.
“[The WTA medical team] discovered a lump in her thyroid gland,” Jason Goodall, also calling the match for ESPN, said. “She couldn’t sleep, concentrate on her tennis and expected the worse. Fortunately, she was cleared.”
The lump was benign. The cancer scare was not, thankfully, cancer itself.
Given those backstories plus their friendship, neither Bertens nor Goerges were interested in revenge during this quarterfinal. Additionally Goerges has been on tour 13 years, Bertens nine. Both instinctively knew this moment was special. But Goerges pulled out her best court tactics to move to Thursday’s semifinal against Serena Williams.
“This match was all about the big serving and the big hitting,” Stubbs added. “In the second, Goerges started being much more aggressive, whereas in (the) first she was much more passive. It’s the best run she’s pulled together.”
Goerges hit 36 winners to Bertens’ 19, and committed 21 unforced errors to Bertens’ 27. Both women have formidable doubles careers, yet Goerges outpaced Bertens at the net. The German converted 72 percent of the time in the forecourt.
Goerges again will need all her game elements to come together against Serena. She has won the ladies’ singles championship at Wimbledon seven times. She will be gunning for her eighth and a 24th overall major that would tie her with Margaret Court. But Williams will not have the edge on all fronts. Through the first five rounds Goerges hit 44 aces to Williams’ 39. Free points count. Game on.
“When fitness is high and confidence is high, you can use your weapons,” Stubbs said about Goerges, a foreshadowing of what’s coming next.