The thought occurred that the stronger server was the favourite when the second set rolled into a tie-break.
As far as this scattergun match was concerned, however, the player with the marginally less fragile serve was always one step ahead and despite a few stumbles along the way, it felt inevitable that Angelique Kerber would squeeze into the last four at the expense of Simona Halep.
Kerber wrapped it up in straight sets but her progress might have been more serene had she displayed greater assurance when the ball was in her hand. The fourth seed made harder work of her victory than was strictly necessary, dropping her serve six times and briefly faltering when she tried to stamp her authority on proceedings at the business end of both sets.
However Kerber could take great satisfaction from the way she reacted to adversity, dealing with Halep’s stinging groundstrokes and gritty defiance by summoning the belief and class befitting a grand slam champion to win 7-5, 7-6 (7-2) in 90 minutes of unpredictable tennis, and the German is in ominous form, playing the kind of forceful, dogged tennis that stunned Serena Williams in the Australian Open.
In the process of denying Williams her 22nd grand slam title, Kerber ended her long wait for glory at the age of 28 and there could be another confrontation with the world No1 in Saturday’s final.
However Kerber, who has not dropped a set in her five matches, is not looking too far ahead. Venus Williams stands in her way, primed to capitalise if the world No4’s serve is as inviting as it was against Halep, ready to perform a favour of sorts for her younger sister.
“First it’s Venus,” Kerber said. “I’ve played against her in a lot of tough matches, as well. She’s always dangerous on grass, especially here at Wimbledon. She has a lot of confidence right now. It’s the next challenge. It’s the semis. I will just try to play like the last matches, being aggressive.”
Accepting that her serve will need to pack more of a punch against the five-times Wimbledon champion, Kerber plans to spend Wednesday honing that part of her game, though she was at pains to praise the brilliance of Halep’s returning. “I will not be making too much drama on my serve,” she said. “Let’s see.”
Maintaining such an admirably level-headed approach could take Kerber all the way to the title. Equally, however, it was difficult not to conclude that a more consistent opponent would have taken advantage of her struggles to hold her serve.
Halep was even more susceptible whenever she tossed the ball into the sky and swished her racket through the air. The Romanian’s problems were encapsulated by an 83mph first serve and a 67mph second serve in the second set and it took 33 minutes for her to win a service game.
The fifth seed won only 50% on her first serve and an alarming 36% on her second serve. Kerber’s numbers were slightly superior – 57% on her first serve, 42% on her second. The margins can be that fine at this level.
Despite the chaotic serving, the quality of tennis was high. There were countless brutal, punishing rallies, delicate drop shots and some outstanding scampering.
Halep fought back every time she trailed and there were eight consecutive breaks in the first set, with Kerber losing her nerve when she led 5-3.
However Halep was under pressure after dinking wide to give Kerber her first set point in the 12th game. Appropriately, Halep double-faulted. Her serves landing in the middle of the box, allowing Kerber to seize the initiative with crunching returns.
Halep hit her first and only ace after 55 minutes, pinging the ball down the middle, but a horrible forehand gifted Kerber three break points in the sixth game of the second set. The German crept ahead thanks to a backhand down the line.
Halep broke back in the seventh game, picking her spot with a forehand, and she repeated the trick when Kerber served for the match, forcing her to miss with a running forehand.
Yet the world No5 was too erratic. She was guilty of muddled thinking during the tie-break, aiming a simple smash straight at Kerber, whose riposte clipped the top of the net and forced Halep to volley wide.
Facing four match points, Halep missed a backhand and a standing ovation from the rapt Centre Court crowd was little consolation.
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