Simona Halep and Johanna Konta battle for personal milestones in big quarter-final showdown
British No1 Johanna Konta beats Simona Halep in three sets to set up a semi-final against five-time champion Venus Williams at Wimbledon
Where to begin on a women’s quarter-final day that boasted four of the eight players have already won a Major title?
Where the oldest woman was about play her 100th match at the All England Club—and against a woman who was born in the exact month that she played her first Major tournament, Roland Garros 1997? Venus Williams won her first match in Paris, age 16. Jelena Ostapenko turned 20 at this year’s French Open, only her second appearance there—and won the title.
Where the one unseeded player was into her first Major quarter-final at the 36th attempt? Magdalena Rybarikova, age 28, ranked 87.
Where a Briton was into the quarters at her home Major for the first time in 33 years? Johanna Konta had cast off the ties at the tournament where she had won only a single match in five previous visits.
And where the No1 ranking could be won or lost by the end of the day? No2 Simona Halep needed to reach the semi-finals to overtake Angelique Kerber and claim the top spot for the first time.
When the draw was made at Wimbledon just over a week ago, it was theoretically possible for any one of five different women to end the Championships as No1. Now it was down to just two—and one of those was no longer here. Karolina Pliskova lost in the second round, but her shadow still stretched across the rankings.
It was left to Halep to try and take the chance she failed to take at Roland Garros. The title there would have done the job: She was runner-up. Now all Halep had to do was reach the semis, something she had done back in 2014, and this was her second consecutive quarter-final here.
Grass may not be her best surface—that privilege falls to clay, where Halep made the finals not just in Paris but in Rome and Madrid, which she won—but her brand of nimble, tactically smart, energetic tennis brings results across the board, and causes problems for every opponent.
Now she faced a woman who had caused her problems.
Konta was aiming to be the first British woman to reach the semis at Wimbledon in 39 years. Should she win the title, it would make her the first women’s British Wimbledon champion in 40 years. She even had the chance of breaking into the top five for the first time—depending upon the results in the other quarter-finals.
These two had played twice before on the main tour, both times won by Konta in three long tough sets. The last of them was on Konta’s way to her biggest title yet, the Premier Mandatory in Miami, but it took two and half hours and a fight back from a set down.
There was one other meeting this year, in the Fed Cup tie in Romania—a controversial tie in which emotions ran so high that Konta had to leave the court while Romania’s coach Ilie Nastase was escorted from the arena. Perhaps not surprisingly, on Konta’s least loved surface of clay, in an away tie, and against that kind of backdrop, the Briton lost the match in pretty short order.
Now the boot was on the other foot. This was their first grass meeting, and this time on Konta’s home turf. And she was beginning to play some of the best and most focused tennis of her career. She had played three women who had scored wins over her before last week, and came through intense challenges with flying colours.
Well this contest proved to be their closest, most intense yet. Halep came out with all guns blazing, and they blaze impressively for a woman of her 5ft 6in stature. She broke in the second game and survived a break point in the next to lead 3-0.
Konta had another chance to break in the fifth game, but in going for her big shots, she was firing as many errors as winners—three in a row to give Halep the hold. But the Briton grooved her serve for a love hold, and continued to strike beautifully on return of serve to break with a cracking backhand winner. And Centre Court came alive: by the time they reached the tie-break, the buzz had become a roar.
But whether through nerves or pressure, Konta made more errors, and although Halep double faulted for 3-2, Konta sent a smash way long for 4-2 and did not win another point. Halep had the set, 7-6(2), and had made just three unforced errors in the 80 points played.
The second set would be even longer, an hour of compelling, long rallies, as each battled to give nothing away, plying the back corners relentlessly. This time, Konta did not face a single break point, but she could not break down the resilient Romanian, who defended a break point in the second game and then two more in the eighth.
Konta was in danger of over-pressing, and two return of serve errors helped Halep out. In the 10th game, Konta hit the latest of a number of volley errors—again a Halep hold—and they headed into another tie-break.
The bustling Halep took the early advantage, but Konta, now roared on at every point, levelled 3-3, and raced on for the set, 7-6(5), after almost two hours of pulsating tennis. Still Halep’s error count was only at six, Konta’s at 32, but the Briton’s aggressive play was earning a lot of winners, too.
Konta yet again looked vulnerable at the start of the third set, double faulted, hit another dreadful volley, faced break point and numerous deuces, but she came through, and got what would be crucial break in the fifth game. A love hold on each side, and Konta was left to serve out the match, and the packed crowd could barely contain itself.
They cheered every strike of the ball even before the points were over, but there would be no turning back: Konta made first a backhand then a forehand winner, and drew one last error to seal the win, 6-4.
For Halep, it was a doubly bitter blow: out of the tournament but also denied once again that No1 ranking. She had run a kilometre further, made only nine unforced errors, and won only two fewer points in 2hrs 38mins, but it was not enough.
Konta now goes on to play a woman she called her hero before their first meeting in 2015. Williams won that one, 7-5 in the third, but would lose the next three, before Williams claimed the most recent win in Rome this year—another three-setter.
So having played three tough three-setters already this tournament, the chances look strong that Konta will have to do so again. It should be something special.