2022 Wimbledon ATP & WTA Semifinals
Rybakina vs Halep :
Rybakina is into her first semifinal and it’s bringing back memories of the 2020 season where she led the league with a tour-best 5 finals and was pretty much a straight-set machine in the first half of the year. Her serving here has been excellent, and it carried her through to a lopsided last two sets against Ajla Tomljanovic. Ajla had a tremendous run but her marathona with Cornet and Krejcikova made it a big ask to continue to fight even against Rybakina’s power. She had a solid first set and threatened early in the second but Rybakina is really the biggest hitter even against the most powerful players on tour and she tends to hit to more aggressive targets than Ajla who is looking to wear her opponent down and force errors.
There are no shortage of big names dispatched by these two players, but it has felt like Halep’s draw has been a bit rougher and she’s looked more inevitable on her way through it. Halep is yet to drop a set this week and I had all but written her off as far as winning majors on tour but now it almost feels like she’s the favorite for the title. Her win against Badosa can be chalked up to Badosa’s lack of form in this stretch of the season, but Anisimova has been one of the sharpest players on the tour and she was soundly beaten. Halep pressured Anisimova into a number of errors and it looked like Amanda wasn’t prepared for the last shots of the rally to come back. It’s really difficult to train for a player like Halep without playing 2 on 1s, and Halep was able to surprise Anisimova with an extra drive down the line or a quickly returned forehand cross-court over and over. Anisimova had 3 or 4 shots ready on offense but it looked like she wanted points to be over and it hindered her footwork/focus at times. A late run of form by Anisimova and Halep getting a bit passive brought the second set from 5-1 to 4-5 and break point for Amanda, but Halep was able to close out after a backhand miss from Anisimova and two solid serves. The serve has been the biggest surprise this week for Halep. She’s really serving the wide angle from the ad side well, and since she takes the ball down the line so well it’s really important for her to create that opening.
Rybakina and Halep is a really interesting matchup because of the styles. Halep’s baselining is going to expose Rybakina’s movement, and any infusion of errors at all will see her to the finish as quick as she arrived against Anisimova. Simona is basically a lock here unless Rybakina comes with a lights-out performance, but that’s exactly the type of tennis she can play. Rybakina is a bit of a “when” prospect rather than if. She has one of the best service deliveries on tour and hit 15 aces in her last match. If she’s seeing the ball big, she can rattle Halep. This is a slim possibility, but anyone who’s followed Halep’s career has seen how quickly she can go from confident to frustrated after a few misses. The problem I think for Rybakina is that Halep’s footspeed makes her a great returner, and her ability to change direction during the rally may let her keep Rybakina from wanting to fully set her feet when she’s executing on offense; this is a solid move for recovering position but she probably needs to hit full in order to find any errors from Halep in her current form. Halep hasn’t dropped a set yet this tournament, but any late set lapses like she had against Anisimova or early set jitters like she had against Flipkens will cost her one against Rybakina. It’s a big if, but it’s hard to outhit Rybakina for two whole sets. Halep in 3.
Jabeur vs Maria :
I don’t know if it is dangerous for tears to sit idle inside your eyeballs (or however it works), but Tatjana Maria has been solving that problem for me. Her win against Niemeier was a two and a half hour marathon come from behind win that honestly was hard to watch anyone lose. Niemeier played incredible and had a break in the third, but Maria has successfully unravelled her opponent’s tactics and the mental fatigue of dealing with nonstop slices has paid dividends. It was the third round in a row where I saw players rushing to the net against Maria without really having hit a shot worthy of following in. She slices maybe 90% of her shots but she has a decent one-handed backhand and her forehand can hit through the court when she uses it. She picked off Niemeier a handful of times at the end of the third, and I’m not trying to be overly critical but there really isn’t a great danger from Maria of hitting past her opponent, so it’s mostly mental fatigue that leads her opponents to force the issue. Ostapenko coughed up errors, and Niemeier did as well. Their embrace at net was beautiful, and the good news for Niemeier is that she’s incredible at tennis. Her forehand is very well measured and powerful, her serve is solid, and her backhand has good variation and can go either direction. Maria’s slices don’t just sit up either; don’t get me wrong. She hits some devilish sliding balls and can serve well also, I just think that patience for the full match is something she hasn’t seen yet.
Patience won’t make an appearance here. Ons Jabeur has gone with a very aggressive approach, crushing forehands and going to dropshots almost immediately when her opponent steps behind the baseline or when she’s drawn wide to her backhand corner. It cost her the first set against Bouzkova but Jabeur proved that staying the course on offense is the right plan for her. Her play is too solid overall for her to err her way out of a match, and her dropshots are impatient but she isn’t really at a disastrous percentage and it does wear her opponents legs out. Like many great players, Jabeur has a second gear that she can go to if she’s down in the scoreline and it get her out of trouble most of the time. Bouzkova is one of the best defensive baseliners right now and she hits the ball pretty darn hard. For her to get 1,1 in the last two sets really makes me think this is finally the round where Maria won’t be able to hang. These two are close friends, and that familiarity will see both play their best. Maria is on her 14th set of the week, and is likely to struggle here. She lost a set to Ostapenko and Niemeier, but Jabeur has the physical ability that Ostapenko lacks and the experience that Niemeier does. She’ll close this out in two. Jabeur in 2.
Djokovic vs Norrie :
“Sinner didn’t have anything to lose coming into the match, but he had a lot to lose from 2-0 up, and I felt that” An interesting quote from Novak, and it’s hard for him to not sound a bit spicy after a defiant win that looks an awful lot like all the other defiant 0-2 comebacks he’s dished out at the majors. I thought this was a nice story to tell, but the real factor here was Novak Djokovic. Jannik Sinner had a nice come from behind win in set one, and he breezed through set 2. He was even in the third and it appeared as if he just played Djokovic into shape. Djokovic’s strength and defense allow him to mount comebacks, but it’s the level he rounds into during a match that really upends his opponents. There were entire games in this match where Djokovic didn’t miss more than one shot. Once he hits that level it’s not so much that his opponent is overthinking the finish line, but that they can’t find their way out of a freaking rally. Djokovic is tremendous, one of the all-time greats at tennis, and trying to hit through him is something that really only the big 3 have been able to do, and rarely have they been able to do it for extended periods of time (most of their matches are shootouts and include tons of momentum swings even when they’re playing their best).
I don’t think these are crushing Ls for the Next Gen as much as wakeup calls that great tennis is only part of the equation. If you want to beat Djokovic, you have to train as hard as him. Whether that message gets received is the question. The tendency is that ego clings to a “I LOST” “I COULD HAVE BEEN IN THE SEMIS” “THIS WAS MY CHANCE” story. It’s natural to hurt when you perceive a loss, but it really doesn’t serve you at all to dwell on this, nor does it change what has already happened. Accept the past, and you can begin building the future you want in the present moment. Jannik has a great head on his shoulders, and this was a very promising run on a surprise surface. Physical maturity will see him close these matches out, and his team will be working towards him packing on muscle in the coming years.
While Djokovic was completing his marathon against Sinner, Norrie was manufacturing his own in a similar fashion. David Goffin opened up this match playing great tennis. He outhit Norrie and seemed to have a small edge in power throughout. Up a break and looking sharp in the second, Norrie was able to dig in and steal the set. When a grinder like Norrie starts to make inroads, it feels like game over. Somehow, Goffin against found his accuracy and rolled Norrie 6-2 in the third. The crowd won the 4th while Norrie ran sprints until Goffin played a poor service game, and these two arrived at 5-5 in the 5th set completely even. I was hoping Goffin might win as a major semifinal would be a crowning achievement for what has been a ridiculously successful but somewhat unsung career. Norrie ended up just having momentum when the time was right though, and honestly it’s a well deserved honor to make the semifinals of his home slam considering how hard he’s been working. Cam’s style of constantly measuring and sliding his flat backhand into the court extremely low over the net may not be the most aesthetically pleasing shot, but it is incredibly difficult to do. He’s been doing it for season after season after season. He’s serving slightly better than he used to, but this is still a guy who is outworking his opponents and earning every single point he wins on tour. His post-match interview was pretty wholesome, as he couldn’t even find words and it seemed like the result hadn’t even set in yet.
This semifinal looks fairly one-sided. Norrie is looking to grind his opponents down and arrive at a place where they’re frustrated into errors, or fatigued enough for him to impose his forehand. Neither of those things is really going to happen against Djokovic, and Novak surviving one scare is enough to have him feeling that lucky-loser “freerolling” attitude in this position. There is pressure for Novak to win here to get to number 21, but he’s playing a much less dangerous opponent this round and he ended the last match in similar form that saw him win his last few Wimbledons. Their only previous meeting was in Turin with Djokovic winning 6-1, 6-2, but that can be discounted somewhat since Norrie was a late addition to that event (the late subs rarely perform well on the hyper-fast hardcourts of the World Tour Finals). Norrie will have the crowd on his side, but the big 3 don’t generally see the type of heckling/dissent that could really impact their game. Djokovic is nearly impossible to rattle also, and it’s only his own level that really ever makes him react. Positives for Norrie are his speed and consistency. Djokovic will cross the finish line here, but we will likely be treated to some tremendous tennis before he gets there. Norrie’s style has been effective against the best offenses, it’s just hard to see him making inroads here when one of the best offenses is coupled with the best defense (on grass). Djokovic in 3-4.
Kyrgios vs Nadal :
I’m scared. This match opened up with Kyrgios a small favorite (-140). Does the villain get to win? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS? At this price, I almost expect a withdrawal, and that’s not what I want to see.
Fritz and Nadal played a tremendous contest today, a four and a half hour drama (tennis scoreline drama) filled with high level shotmaking and defense. Fritz was down a break in the first set and managed to pull even. It was solid play and in the early goings it was expected that Fritz’s right arm would be a major weapon for him. His serve looks simple but he gets forehands to work with quite often. Down the same early break in the second, Fritz broke back again, but Nadal was not to be denied. It was in this set that Nadal seemed to injure himself. He was moving forward for a ball and I thought it looked like his knee locked. He didn’t jump on his next two serves and called for the trainer. It turned out to be an abdominal issue, and his serve was severely hampered in this one. Somehow, Nadal was already prepared for this issue, and immediately began using more spin and sliding ball after ball expertly wide. It was like watching someone produce Gilles Muller level serves with a Stephane Robert style delivery. The announcers spent the next two sets talking about Nadal considering retirement, but I think that was the last thing on his mind. When someone continues a match against you injured, it’s because they think they can win anyway, and Nadal was right.
In the fourth set, Fritz started to look a step slow. Nadal started putting a bit more oopmh into his shots shortly after the third, and it paid dividends as Fritz had to play a bit faster than he’s really able to. Credit to Taylor, he half-volleyed shots back in play over and over and scrambled as best he could, but the dude is 6’5” and the quick scrambling reactions are tough for him. When Nadal’s lefty patterns start to work, it’s really hard to play him since he can loop forehands cross and just get himself out of trouble. Fritz’s backhand wasn’t able to land many down the line in the second half of this match, and though he started going more aggressively cross-court in the fifth (which let him hold serve) it really was the classic Nadal win. Fritz was able to dictate in a number of rallies with his forehand, but Nadal started going to low slices when he was drawn wide and this frustrated Fritz. Having to hit several offensive offerings with no pace, while Nadal gradually works himself into better and better position is incredibly tilting, and Fritz should take a page out of Novak’s book in the future. Guys like Nadal are perfect. They’re not going to miss shots unless they’re pressured, and sometimes applying that pressure is more important than it being the perfect opportunity. When Nadal goes to these tactics against Djokovic, Novak follows his next shot in to the net. It gets you picked off, but it also gives Nadal a different look and one of the only times he misses is when you make him change his shot on the run.
This was a dead even contest that ultimately was decided in a fifth set tiebreak. While this is a good method of keeping players from getting fatigued playing extra innings, it’s really tough to compartmentalize early errors in a tiebreak. Fritz went down a single minibreak, Nadal held twice, and the match was basically over. It’s a testament to Nadal’s consistency that you simply can’t come back on him, but he had taken over this match by wearing down Fritz’s legs and exhausting his offensive thinking. The changeover down 9-3 was just painful, and the camera crew was nice not to show Fritz the entire time. Great showing for Fritz, but Nadal was just stronger later in this match. His backhand is way more nuanced, and his forehand (though not at its best on grass) started to really crush the ball. Having that second gear is huge, and anyone who’s watched Nadal in practice sessions can tell you he can crush winner after winner but takes a more conservative grinding approach in most matches.
While this Fritz Nadal marathon was going, Wimbledon saw fit to throw on the second quarterfinal at the same time. The scheduling has been kinda odd this week, and not having one match at a time for the quarterfinals seems like an error. I caught a good chunk of Garin and Kyrgios, and what I saw was Kyrgios cruising. The announcers made a good show of pointing out how well he carried himself today, and that makes me pretty sick. The dude carries himself poorly even during wins. He yelled at his box after being broken in the opening games of the first set. Later he was up 2 sets to love and had a match point and a line judge made an out call that was overturned, and Kyrgios screamed “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” at him. His standard of behavior is so low that tennis is now willing to accept just general toxicity as a classy showing from Nick. Garin’s forehand got going in the third, but he just isn’t the best returner and Kyrgios was able to coast in this one. The break in the first set was the only one earned the whole match for Garin, and Kyrgios basically won through variance and a few Garin forehand shanks which looked to be the result of fatigue from his wars against De Minaur and Brooksby.
For me, -140 for Kyrgios is a price that will see unbalanced investment on Nadal. The abdominal issue is a major concern, but Nick’s shoulder seems a bit hampered since his match against Nakashima. If Fritz were playing Kyrgios I could see this price being right, but Nadal is such a huge market that I’m scared this is just indicating that Nadal isn’t going to recover well for this next match. Fritz is more durable on defense than Kyrgios, but Nick’s serve is likely to score a lot more unreturned. He played Nadal at Wimbledon once before in 2019 and they had a close 4 set match with Nadal winning and Kyrgios whining. I want that again, but oof it’s likely to have to happen in tiebreakers and I’m not sure that Nadal can go the distance if he has a real injury. Hard to really provide analysis at all when the match hinges on unknown health info. If Nadal is ok to take the court, I still think he beats Kyrgios. He’ll break down Nick’s movement and backhand the same as he did to Fritz, and Kyrgios’ forehand doesn’t get through the court as well as Fritz’s so Nadal’s defending will likely yield errors. If Nadal is worse physically than he was today, I’m not sure he can win. Kyrgios will be much more aggressive about returning if he sees Nadal is struggling, and his use of the dropshot and serve and volley will give him a lot of cheap points that Fritz had to earn the hard way. It’s gross for Kyrgios to get a win against a role model when he’s a chihuahua with a vendetta, but that’s likely what we’re looking at. Healthy Nadal in 4 and a Kyrgios implosion, Kyrgios in 4-5 against a struggling Nadal who just can’t break serve, or a Nadal withdrawal are what we’re looking at here. My guess is Kyrgios advances, but I’ll be waiting for the news to come out in the next day or so just like the rest of you. Get well soon, Nadal.