Welcome to ladies’ quarter-finals day at Wimbledon featuring seven contenders all dreaming of lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish for the first time and one who’s enjoyed the honour seven times. To surmise that it’s now Serena Williams versus the rest seems irresistible, even if ‘Supermom’ herself is cautioning us against any such dangerous assumptions.
For the first time at Wimbledon, none of the top-10 seeds have made this stage, an occurrence also unprecedented in any Open era Grand Slam. The mayhem that’s sliced the ladies’ draw apart almost feels as if it’s blasted open a road to the final simply to offer the comeback queen a stately procession.
Except, of course, Serena is too canny to fall for that. To her, those remaining adversaries are the magnificent seven. Yes, she knows she has an “aura”, but all she can see is a group of “young ladies all just going out there swinging and playing for broke.”
Or as her latest motto has it: “Everyone always plays me at their greatest. So I have to be greater.”
Well, so far shehas been, gathering momentum by the match, even if she’s only beaten three opponents all ranked outside the top 100 without the loss of a set. Today, she faces world No.52, Camila Giorgi, an erratic Italian who’s finally made it to her first Grand Slam quarter-final. As for the ‘playing for broke’ bit, the 26-year-old from Pisa always plays as if she’s trying to blow down the leaning tower in one blast.
Giorgi, who’s never quite delivered on her obviously considerable talent, is a singular, surprisingly reserved character off court for someone who, as Serena noted, produces a roaring, power-packed game from such a small frame. Asked yesterday what she liked about Serena’s game, she shrugged: “I don't follow woman tennis, and I don't follow tennis.” Er, next question for Camila then, please…
Her Argentine-born father and coach Sergio, whose inspiration is the new Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa, known fondly in footballing circles as ‘El Loco’, is a bit different too, reckoning that he loves “crazy people if they have something brilliant to offer.”
So, can his Camila, whose only Tour triumph came on the grass at Rosmalen in 2015, serve up that brilliance? The trouble for Giorgi is that Serena remembers her two previous wins over the Italian only too well. “I do follow women’s tennis,” she smiled sweetly, if ominously.
Dominika Cibulkova is the other similarly explosive non-seed left in the draw, but it says much about her formidable game that we never think of this small package of dynamite as anything but a genuine contender.
Her clash with No.12 seed Jelena Ostapenko on No.1 Court looks grand, an incendiary contest between the experienced Slovak who’s a rare study in intensity and last year’s Roland-Garros champion, a gloriously uninhibited ball striker who thinks she’s rediscovering her inspirational Paris 2017 best.
“She's playing aggressive, with no fear, she’s just going for it,” noted Cibulkova. “It's going to be a match with a lot of aggressive rallies, a lot of winners.” Oh, this should be a lot of fun.
As should the Centre Court duel between No.14 seed Daria Kasatkina, a young Russian whose game is sprinkled with inventive stardust, and Angelique Kerber, like Williams a performer with an impeccable pedigree as a double Grand Slam winner, a finalist here in 2016 and at No.11 the top remaining seed.
Like Ostapenko, Kasatkina is a prospect full of Eastern promise but she has more in her game than power and daring; there’s also a finesse and delicacy to her varied shotmaking which prompted her to declare cheerily yesterday: “I’m like an artist and I’m playing with the heart. I’m not boring in life and I’m not boring on the court.”
In fact, reckoned ‘Dasha’, she’s “completely crazy”. She then did her best to prove it by offering a long, enthusiastic explanation about how she’d play against herself in a vast room for hours on end, hitting the ball against the wall and chasing it just to be able to perfect a tweener.
Julia Goerges, the No.13 seed, and Kiki Bertens, the No.20 seed, our final two combatants on No.1 Court, are a bit more straightforward than that. Two of the three biggest ace-servers in this year’s tournament - Goerges has 41, Serena Williams 32 and Bertens 28 - this will be an arm-wrestle to get on the front foot.
“I’m a pretty aggressive player, with big weapons, trying to be the one who’s dominant. I want to take it in my hands,” said Goerges. Which is pretty much what Bertens will be plotting too, having prevailed in their two previous encounters.
So good luck to them both then as they offer up something the FIFA World Cup couldn’t in their tear-stained nations - a good old-fashioned Germany versus Netherlands sporting collision!
A Gutsy performance from both sides