LONDON (Reuters) - When Jelena Ostapenko walked on to Wimbledon’s Court One on Tuesday, it appeared as if she was facing an identikit opponent - both had their hair tied back into neat ponytails and wore white headbands and wristbands.
Each had also reached the quarter-finals without dropping a set, and had surrendered only 23 games in four matches.
But there the resemblance ended for former top five player Dominica Cibulkova. The 21-year-old Latvian firecracker blasted her off court 7-5 6-4 to become the first player from her country to reach a Wimbledon singles semi-final.
Thirteen months after winning her first claycourt title at Roland Garros, Ostapenko will now hope to contest her first grasscourt final at the All England Club when she meets German 11th seed Angelique Kerber on Thursday.
“I am fighting till the end and it helps me gain more confidence. It’s great to be in the semis,” Ostapenko said, beaming after beating Cibulkova for the first time in three attempts.
After more than a week of sizzling 30 degrees Celsius temperatures, the players struggled to find their range on a chilly and blustery Court One, where the ‘feels like’ temperature dipped to around 14 degrees.
Four of the first five games went against serve before 12th seed Ostapenko’s game finally caught fire in the 11th game when she broke the Slovakian to love with a blazing backhand down-the-line winner.
Two successive aces, clocked at 103 and 106 mph, gave Ostapenko the first set and she tightened her grip when she ended another flurry of breaks to go 4-2 up in the second.
Cibulkova did her best to hang on but was left chasing shadows as Ostapenko blasted a backhand winner on her first match point to become the only woman to reach the semis without dropping a set in this year’s tournament.
There was no let-up from Ostapenko throughout the 82-minute contest as she struck the ball with such ferocity that Cibulkova might have wanted to take cover as she watched 33 crisp winners fly off Ostapenko’s racket, to her six.
“I felt today on the court I couldn’t really bring my game into the match because she was really aggressive on the return. She didn’t let me play how I wanted,” said Cibulkova, the world number 33.
“She’s playing with no fear. On the grass she’s playing even better than on the clay. It might be her year.”
Ostapenko did not disagree: “I always had this opportunity to hit the ball pretty hard. When I have opportunity in my matches, I’m just going for the winners.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Kevin Liffey