Screamer helps Konta bury Halep

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — Venus Wil­liams handed out an­other les­son to one of Wim­ble­don’s young up­starts when she beat Je­lena Ostapenko 6-3, 7-5 on Tues­day to be­come the old­est women’s semi­fi­nal­ist for 23 years.

The five-time cham­pion, who turned 37 last month, tamed the big-hit­ting Lat­vian with a rock-solid per­for­mance un­der the Cen­tre Court roof, win­ning with some­thing to spare to book a semi­fi­nal against Bri­tain’s Jo­hanna Konta.

Ostapenko turned women’s ten­nis up­side down when she rock­eted out of the pack to claim her first pro­fes­sional ti­tle at the French Open last month and the feisty 20-yearold ap­peared to be gath­er­ing mo­men­tum on the All Eng­land Club lawns.

A rare French Open/Wim­ble­don dou­ble looked within reach for Ostapenko, who struck 121 win­ners en route to the last eight.

But old mae­stro Wil­liams, who had al­ready schooled a 21-year-old and two teenagers en route to her 38th Grand Slam quar­ter­fi­nal, has seen it all be­fore and barely flinched.

There was a wob­ble when she dropped serve with a dou­ble fault in the sec­ond set — giv­ing Ostapenko re­newed be­lief — but she never look ruf­fled as she reached the semi­fi­nals here for the 10th time in 20 vis­its.

Mak­ing her Cen­tre Court de­but, Ostapenko was a lit­tle more sub­dued than nor­mal but re­ceived a glow­ing re­port from the vet­eran of 75 Grand Slam cam­paigns.

“She went for a lot of shots. She com­peted re­ally well. She kept her­self re­ally in the game with her at­ti­tude. I thought she just did a lot of things re­ally well and kept it close,” said Wil­liams, who made her Wim­ble­don de­but in 1997, a few weeks after Ostapenko was born.

“I had never played her. Didn’t re­ally know what to ex­pect. I was re­ally happy to come out on top.”

Slow start

Ostapenko, who three years ago served no­tice of her tal­ent by win­ning the Wim­ble­don ju­nior ti­tle, said she paid for the slow start that al­lowed Wil­liams to sprint into a 3-0 lead.

“I was miss­ing a lit­tle bit,” said Ostapenko, who tasted de­feat for the first time in 12 Grand Slam sin­gles matches.

“I was not play­ing bad, but I was just not play­ing the way I wanted to play. I wasn’t serv­ing so well.”

Ostapenko smacked a back­hand into the net in the sec­ond game to gift Wil­liams a break and the Amer­i­can breezed through the opener in 29 min­utes — seal­ing it when the Lat­vian com­pletely missed an at­tempted ser­vice re­turn.

Wil­liams se­cured an early break in the sec­ond set, but a dou­ble fault al­lowed Ostapenko to break back and she briefly looked dan­ger­ous with some blud­geon­ing win­ners.

Ostapenko was two points from squar­ing the match when 10th seed Wil­liams served at 4-5 but nar­rowly missed the line with a fore­hand how­itzer at 30-30, to the re­lief of her op­po­nent.

Wil­liams cap­i­tal­ized on some er­rors to break in the next game and held to love to claim vic­tory.

Since win­ning Wim­ble­don in 2008, her sev­enth ma­jor, Wil­liams has only reached the fi­nal here once, los­ing to her sis­ter Ser­ena in 2009.

With­out her younger si­b­ling for com­pany this time, a sixth ti­tle beck­ons, although Konta will be a tough nut to crack with 15,000 home fans roar­ing her on.

“I’m sure she’s con­fi­dent and de­ter­mined,” Wil­liams said. “She’s prob­a­bly deal­ing with a dif­fer­ent kind of pres­sure play­ing here at home. But she seems to be han­dling it.”

LON­DON — Jo­hanna Konta won a place at the Wim­ble­don semi­fi­nal ta­ble on Tues­day in a feast of ten­sion-filled ten­nis, pow­er­ing past Si­mona Halep in three epic sets to be­come the first Bri­tish woman to reach the fi­nal four in al­most 40 years.

In a match drip­ping with ten­sion at one of the most open women’s grass­court Grand Slams in years, Konta rode a wave of home sup­port to win 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 6-4.

The match closed on a sur­real note, when the fi­nal point was punc­tu­ated by a spec­ta­tor’s scream. Halep lamely net­ted a fore­hand as she ap­pealed in vain for a let.

Halep said after­ward the match point should have been re­played after the fan screamed out, caus­ing the Ro­ma­nian to check her stride and shot.

Just as the sec­ond seed went into her wind-up on a fore­hand to stay in the tie, a woman’s loud, pierc­ing shriek echoed around Cen­tre Court — am­pli­fied to dra­matic ef­fect by the closed roof.

Halep was ob­vi­ously dis­tracted by the call and looked to umpire Kader Nouni to rule the point to be re­played.

But no call was forth­com­ing and Konta looked be­mused as she walked to the net after her win.

“I thought he was go­ing to re­peat the point. I think it’s nor­mal to re­peat the point when some­one is scream­ing like that,” said Halep.

“He said, ‘We can­not re­play. I can­not change any­thing.’ So why I should fight?”

Konta, 26, said the scream was just as dis­tract­ing from her side.

“It was a woman on my end who screamed. I think she was over-ex­cited about the deep ball that Si­mona hit. It was ac­tu­ally as I was hit­ting my ball, so I think it more af­fected me than my op­po­nent,” she said.

“I think the fans were a lit­tle over-en­thu­si­as­tic at times. But I def­i­nitely can­not com­plain with the amount of sup­port and gen­eral good feel­ings that they were wish­ing my way.”

Konta, seeded sixth, and sec­ond-seeded Halep were fac­ing each other for the first time since a tur­bu­lent Fed Cup tie in April.

As the rain drummed down out­side the roofed Cen­tre Court and avoid­ing eye con­tact at changeovers, the pair also had the ex­tra weight of his­tory to con­tend with.

Konta, work­ing hard to keep her op­po­nent pinned be­hind the base­line, was bid­ding to book a date with Venus Wil­liams on Thurs­day as the first home semi­fi­nal­ist since Vir­ginia Wade in 1978, the year after Wade won the ti­tle.

Halep, scam­per­ing from wing to wing as she soaked up the pres­sure, was one match from be­com­ing the first Ro­ma­nian to top the com­put­er­ized world rank­ings — a dis­tinc­tion that, fol­low­ing her loss, passed to Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Repub­lic.

The re­fined sur­round­ings of the main show­court were a world away from the tiny sta­dium on the Black Sea where the two play­ers last met, with Halep win­ning in straight sets.

Konta be­came tear­ful dur­ing her other sin­gles match against So­rana Cirstea in that Fed Cup tie, blam­ing what she called a hos­tile re­cep­tion from Ro­ma­nian fans who Halep this week de­scribed as “very fair”.

On Tues­day, the Aus­trali­aborn Konta strug­gled to take it all in — but for al­to­gether dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

“Right now it’s a lit­tle bit sur­real,” she told the BBC after seal­ing vic­tory in just un­der three hours.

“Si­mona was re­ally not go­ing to give me much for free, so I def­i­nitely had to be the one out there to cre­ate my own chances and I felt I did that.”

Konta said she was “ex­cited and hum­bled” to be fac­ing Wil­liams, a match Wade pre­dicted the Bri­ton would win.

“It’s fine to be the last Bri­tish women’s win­ner at Wim­ble­don, but it’s bet­ter to have plenty of Bri­tish play­ers to win,” Wade said in com­ments re­leased by the All Eng­land Club.

“If I get a chance I will tell (Jo­hanna) how well she played and wish her good luck.”

MATTHEW CHILDS / REUTERS

Jo­hanna Konta

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