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WTA Wimbledon 2019 Notebook

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

Notebook articles are used when a writer doesn’t want to emphasize one theme, but has a collection of shorter thoughts and tidbits to present. Here is a WTA notebook before the Wimbledon women’s semifinals.

Start with some tweets and statistics: 12 major semifinal slots have gone to 12 different players in 2019.

The only player who has returned to the semifinals of a specific major tournament in 2019 after making the semis of that same major in 2018: Serena Williams at Wimbledon.

None of the 2018 Australian Open or Roland Garros semifinalists returned to the 2019 AO or RG semifinals.

The constant variety of WTA major semifinalists — and how elusive it is for players to accumulate large numbers of major semifinals, as the above tweets and statistics show — leads me to want to classify or more precisely categorize the nature of various semifinal runs at majors.

Only one of these four 2019 Wimbledon semifinalists was reasonably expected: Serena.

Yes, Simona Halep had a realistic chance, but that’s not the same as EXPECTING her to do well and make a deep run. The bottom half of the women’s draw was open, but that’s not the same as being “Halep’s draw to lose.”

So, let’s make some distinctions here.

If three of the four semifinalists were not entirely expected, what distinctions can we make within that larger reality?

I have a few basic categories which can be refined upon further analysis and discussion.

Elina Svitolina is the true “out of nowhere” semifinalist — not in terms of her overall career record, which is substantial, but in terms of both recent form and her grass track record. Since Indian Wells, she had won a main-draw match at only one tournament, the French Open. She won two matches in Paris. She went 0-2 in the grass warm-up season, losing in separate events. She had never gotten past the fourth round at Wimbledon and had rarely gotten that far to begin with.

THAT is out of nowhere, a smaller-scale version of Andre Agassi winning his first major at his (then-) least favorite place, the All England Club, in 1992.

Barbora Strycova is on the border of an out-of-nowhere semifinalist. It was and is unexpected, of course, but she made a Wimbledon quarterfinal before (2014) and has had a game widely recognized as being compatible with grass. Then again, this was an out-of-nowhere run in that she had made only one major quarterfinal in her career and hadn’t made the fourth round of a major since 2018 Roland Garros. You could debate where Strycova fits in terms of a category.

Simona Halep made the Wimbledon semifinals before. She made a quarterfinal run in Eastbourne and beat tricky opponents — Hsieh Su-Wei and Polona Hercog — to get there. She is a former World No. 1. She rates as a player who is just plain good, meaning that good tennis players win everywhere, or at least are CAPABLE of winning everywhere.

How many “out of nowhere” WTA major semifinalists have we had this year? I would say that in addition to Svitolina (Strycova is on the fence), there are two other clear examples: Danielle Collins did not get past the round of 32 in her two Australian Open warm-ups, then roared to the semis in Melbourne. Amanda Anisimova entered Roland Garros having won exactly ONE main-draw match since April 14, when she won Bogota. THAT is out of nowhere.

Marketa Vondrousova and Jo Konta were not expected to thrive at Roland Garros, but they unmistakably carried runs of form and confidence from the meat of the clay season into France. Those were not “out of nowhere.” Those were examples of players carrying regular-tour play into majors, which a lot of pros fail to do. Skepticism was warranted heading into the French Open, but Vondrousova and Konta overcame that skepticism.

Ash Barty was playing quality tennis. Clay was not her preferred surface, but she was in the midst of her best season and took her game to the next level.

In Australia, Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, and Petra Kvitova all had the capacity to make a run. Osaka’s run was expected. Pliskova was not expected to beat Serena Williams, and she got lucky, but she capitalized on Serena’s ankle roll. Kvitova played her best major since 2014 Wimbledon. She turned it on, which she is always capable of doing for two weeks.

We will refine our notions of WTA semifinalists as we go along, including at the U.S. Open.

Some other final notes:

— Halep has made Wimbledon semifinals five years apart. That reflects staying power — not as much as Serena, but then again, no one sets standards the way Serena does these days.

— Ukraine and Romania have never produced a Wimbledon women’s singles finalist. Svitolina-Halep will produce a first for the winning player’s country.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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