Ash Barty revealed last year she finally had the courage to say out loud that winning Wimbledon was her dream.
After beating Ajla Tomljanovic in straight sets in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, she is now just two wins away from achieving it.
In the first all-Australian women’s Wimbledon quarterfinal in 41 years, Barty’s well-rounded game proved too much for her countrywoman to handle on Centre Court, and she stormed to a 6-1 6-3 win in a brisk 66 minutes.
“This is my dream,” she said after advancing to the first Wimbledon of her career to become the first Australian woman to reach this stage since Jelena Dokic in 2000.
“I'm in an extremely fortunate position that I'm getting to do what I dreamt as a kid. So I think I've just got a whole lot of gratitude for the fact that I get to come out here and do what I love.”
It is extremely impressive the world No.1 has worked her way through to this point of the tournament, considering her less-than-ideal preparation.
Barty suffered an acute hip injury at Roland Garros, forcing her to retire during her second-round match and then skip all grass-court events leading into Wimbledon.
Yet as is the knack of all champions, she appears to be peaking at just the right time; after scratchy performances in the earlier rounds, Barty played her cleanest and most dominant match of the Championships against Tomljanovic.
“I think today I was able to use my weapons a little bit better and just bring the ball back into my patterns a bit more regularly. I certainly wasn't as loose as I have been with errors and kind of ill-timed lapses,” assessed Barty, who finished the match with 23 winners to Tomljanovic’s five.
“I felt really sharp today.”
She will need to maintain this level, given she faces Angelique Kerber in a blockbuster semifinal between Grand Slam champions.
“It's not scary or overwhelming, it's just exciting,” Barty said of facing the 2018 Wimbledon winner.
“It's exciting to have the challenge of playing someone who is comfortable on these courts, who knows how to win this tournament.”
Kerber: "I was always believing"
She may know how to win this tournament, but until now it had been several years since Kerber had shown the kind championship-winning form that had seen her claim three Grand Slam titles.
She had not gone beyond the fourth round at a major since triumphing at the All England Club three years ago, but a comfortable 6-2 6-3 victory over Karolina Muchova sent her through to her fourth Wimbledon semifinal.
Ranked No.2 to begin the 2019 season, Kerber, at age 33, has since tumbled outside the top 25.
But the former world No.1 never lost her belief that she could rediscover her best level.
“The last few months it was really tough. Of course I was not being able to having this result which I was actually looking for it,” admitted Kerber, who is on a 10-match winning streak after winning her first WTA title in three years in Bad Homburg.
“I love to play tennis and I love this sport, to go out there and play again in front of the fans. I think this gives me also that push me to playing my best tennis right now.
“I have always in my career some up and downs. I was always believing that I can come back because I know what I can.
“I never stopped to believe in myself, how I can play.”
A breakthrough for Sabalenka
While Barty was living her dream, and Kerber had unwavering belief, Aryna Sabalenka was for a time experiencing neither of these things.
The Belarusian seemed to have a mental block at the majors; until this fortnight she had played 14 Grand Slam main draws without ever surpassing the fourth round, despite incredible results at WTA tour-level and a ranking that had reached the top five.
And she admitted as much after breaking through for her first semifinal following victory over Ons Jabeur on Centre Court.
“I was struggling on the Grand Slams with all emotions going through. After every Slam I was so disappointed about myself that I can't handle this pressure. I actually thought that I will never make it to the second week,” she revealed.
“We worked a lot with my psychologist and with my coach.
“Today it's surprise me but I didn't feel that pressure of being in the quarterfinal for the first time. I was just enjoying the atmosphere and enjoying my game. So it was great performance for me.
“Really happy that … I'm still in the tournament, and I still have this opportunity to win a Slam. I will do everything I can to reach my goal.”
Pliskova back where she belongs
Winning a Slam is also something Pliskova is yet to achieve.
But appearing to play completely free of pressure, the Czech has a great chance, facing semifinal debutant Sabalenka for a shot at her first Grand Slam final appearance since the 2016 US Open.
Pliskova arrived at Wimbledon – statistically her worst major tournament – with a lukewarm win-loss record of 15-12 and having just dropped outside the top 10 for the first time in five years.
She promptly fell behind 5-2 in the first set of her opening match against Tamara Zidansek and faced a set point – yet has been unstoppable since to post her best result at a major tournament since her semifinal run at Australian Open 2019.
“It means a lot, of course. Especially after, like, not really having many good weeks before Wimbledon, it feels like a dream a bit,” said Pliskova, yet to drop a set at this year’s Championships after dominating Viktorija Golubic 6-2 6-2.
“I think (fans and the media) can be quite brutal. I was five years in top 10. Then one week I'm not in top 10, and it's like huge drama, especially in my country. I think these things, they just don't help.
“Anyway just, like, I believe at some point I will find my game. I'm just happy it work out well in these two weeks.
“Of course it was my last Grand Slam missing the semifinal, so I'm happy now I have all of them.”