Aryna Sabalenka was only 20 years old when she strode into the top 20 of the WTA rankings in 2018. In the time since, she has compiled 10 WTA titles, she has beaten many of the best players of her time and she has learned how to harness her enormous power enough to perform consistently and rise to fourth in the rankings.
Those great achievements, ones that most professionals could only dream of, have for so long come with a caveat: she had never crossed the fourth round of a grand slam tournament, and often wasn’t even close.
This year at Wimbledon, despite the added weight of being seeded second at a grand slam tournament for the first time, Sabalenka has finally taken the next step in her career by piecing together a deep, authoritative grand slam run. It took a dominant performance under the Centre Court roof as Sabalenka defeated Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-3 to reach her first semi-final at Wimbledon.
Sabalenka had never previously passed the second round here and, before this year, had reached the fourth round of a major only once. She said that her inability to perform at the biggest tournaments was at times crushing: “I was struggling on the grand slams with all emotions going through,” Sabalenka said. “After every slam I was so disappointed about myself that I can’t handle this pressure.
“I actually thought that I would never make it to the second week. We worked a lot with my psychologist and with my coach. We worked a lot. Really happy that here in Wimbledon I’m on the second week, 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.”
As she tackled Wimbledon once more, Sabalenka says she spoke with her psychologist about believing in herself and continuing her work but also about embracing the weight of competing at a major: “When you’re trying not to think about anything, you start to think about it much more. So I kind of accept this situation that I’m under pressure in the grand slam [tournaments].”
Across the net Jabeur’s own whirlwind week came to an end but the memories she has created are for ever. Jabeur continued her pioneering run by becoming the first Arab or North African person to reach the quarter-final of Wimbledon since 1974.
Jabeur arrived at Wimbledon having never played on Centre Court and she has charmed each crowd she has performed before with her creativity, showmanship and her willingness to live and die by her drop shots. Wherever she goes next, history will follow.
In the last four Sabalenka will face Karolina Pliskova, the No 8 seed, who has defied many of her own demons to reach her first Wimbledon semi-final. The former No 1 has been struggling badly with her form in what has been her worst season in seven years. After falling out of the top 10 for the first time since 2015, she is only 20th in the race and she had won multiple matches in only two of her previous 14 tournaments before this event.
At Wimbledon, once a place at which she could never escape the second round, Pliskova has finally rediscovered her form. Pliskova has not dropped a set all tournament, easily defeating Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday to reach her first Wimbledon semi-final. Pliskova is now only the sixth active player to have reached the semi-finals of all four grand slam tournaments.
“It means a lot, of course,” said Pliskova. “Especially after, like, not really having many good weeks before Wimbledon, it feels like a dream a bit. Anyway I believed at some point I would find my game. I’m just happy it worked out well in these two weeks. Of course it was my last grand slam missing the semi-final, so I’m happy now I have all of them.”