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Angelique Kerber vs Jelena Ostapenko Wimbledon tennis live: Explosive Ostapenko faces counterpunching Kerber on Centre Court

  • Angelique Kerber and Jelena Ostapenko face off in the semifinals of Wimbledon 2018 
  • Kerber vs Ostapenko is live from Wimbledon on Thursday at 1pm BST
Angelique Kerber (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Angelique Kerber knows what it takes to get to the Wimbledon final – will the 2016 runner-up outlast and outsteady explosive French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in Thursday's semifinals? 

Angelique Kerber has spent her run to the Wimbledon semifinals dismissing young pretenders, ousting the youthful talents of Naomi Osaka, Belinda Bencic and Daria Kasatkina – now she’s up against another audacious youngster, but one with Grand Slam-winning experience, in French Open Jelena Ostapenko. Who will make the Wimbledon final?

Anticipation for this one is sharpened by the fact that it will be the very first meeting between Kerber and Ostapenko despite the time that both have spent in the top 10, and it is an immense contrast of styles, too – the swashbuckling, all-or-nothing attack of the explosive Ostapenko against Kerber’s impenetrable defense and relentless counterpunching. It could be likened to the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, except that Kerber does move – on these courts, no one better.

This is the third time that Kerber, runner-up at Wimbledon to Serena Williams during the German left-hander’s banner year of 2016, has made the semifinals at the All-England Club and although her two major titles so far have come on the hard courts of the Australian and US Opens, in many ways her game never shines to greater effect than on grass. Kerber has worked so hard to bring out the attacking elements of her fundamentally defensive game, most notably by striking the ball down the lines, and it often seems to flow most naturally for her at Wimbledon.

‘I mean, first I know that I have to [be aggressive on grass],’ Kerber said. ‘On the other side, I like to play on grass. I think that I know how to play on the surface. I have so many great matches during the years where I have a lot of nice experience. 

‘That gives me the confidence that I know that I have to be the aggressive one which has to really try to play point by point and take the point in my hand.’

Against Daria Kasatkina in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, an opponent who has been very difficult for Kerber before (dismantling her at Indian Wells and pushing her to a third-set tie break in Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon began), those added elements of aggression and confidence in attack were crucial for Kerber. The 30-year-old German not only maintained a steadier level and greater calm as her opponent’s level and emotional state ebbed and surged unpredictably, but she kept Kasatkina – a player with heavy, powerful shots off both wings, as well as being one of outrageous talent and flare – from ever settling into too much of a dictatorial rhythm. And while Kasatkina came back from a break down three times in the second set, wowed the Centre Court crowd and saved six match points, it was Kerber who converted her seventh and got the win, 6-3, 7-5 in 89 minutes. 

‘I think [Kasatkina] is a tricky opponent. That's why she is so good. She played so many good matches in the last few months. I was expecting a match like this,’ Kerber said afterwards. 

‘I think for me it was important to play aggressively, trying to taking the challenge how she was playing, as well, trying to moving good, bringing a lot of balls back, trying also to accept how good she is playing.’

That comment about it being important to accept, and not get frustrated by, Kasatkina’s good play is a significant one, because precisely the same kind of attitude is going to be needed when Kerber takes on Jelena Ostapenko – a player who is capable of effectively taking the racquet out of her opponent’s hands, as Dominika Cibulkova found out to her cost on Tuesday.

Jelena Ostapenko  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
After her attempt to defend her French Open title crashed and burned in the very first round with a defeat to Kateryna Kozlova, Ostapenko has been very much under the radar at The Championships. But the Latvian had garnered enough points elsewhere over the past 12 months – winning her first title in Seoul and finishing runner-up to Sloane Stephens in Miami in March, among other things – that although she slipped out of the top 10, she didn’t go far. A junior Wimbledon champion and a quarterfinalist last year, Ostapenko has no qualms about playing on grass and so far at this year’s event, she’s played like she has no qualms about anything.

‘I'm not like at the French Open because I had all that pressure, now it's gone. Finally it's gone. Now it's another tournament, another great opportunity for me,’ Ostapenko said.

‘I'm just not afraid to miss. I'm just going for the shots. I think I'm serving very well this tournament. In general, I think my level is much better than the last Grand Slam.’

Ostapenko’s run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year was stopped by the vastly more experienced Venus Williams, but on Tuesday, taking on Dominika Cibulkova on No. 1 Court, she was up against a player she could outhit – and did. The 21-year-old Latvian has yet to drop a set at Wimbledon this year in wins over Katy Dunne, Kirsten Flipkens, Vitalia Diatchenko and Aliaksandra Sasnovich, although she did have to come back from 2-5 down against Sasnovich in the first set. Against Cibulkova, too, she trailed early in the first set, but with Cibulkova serving at 5-5, reeled off a blizzard of winners to win the last two games of the set and lead 2-0 in the second. Cibulkova got that break back, but Ostapenko just kept going for her shots and making them. She’s not Camila Giorgi, going for broke on every single shot, but she is a genuinely aggressive and audacious shotmaker, and she more or less rendered Cibulkova irrelevant as she hammered 33 winners and 28 unforced errors to win 7-5, 6-3.

Dare we say that Ostapenko’s run is a little resminiscent of that of Garbine Muguruza, who also came into Wimbledon last year liberated by having the pressure of defending her French Open title off her shoulders and stormed to the title? That might be a bit premature – but there’s no doubt that the Latvian is playing as well as anybody right now. 

Ostapenko’s ability to hit 33 winners against Cibulkova, an absolutely excellent mover and defender, shows just how unstoppable her explosive power can be and bodes well for the clash against Kerber – to a point. But I don’t believe anybody tracks down as many balls as Kerber does on these courts, and I think she has a lot more tools than Cibulkova when it comes to making her opponents move – and Ostapenko on the run is nowhere near as dangerous as an Ostapenko allowed to command the court. Ostapenko’s serve is also desperately erratic – she’s right to say that she’s been serving well by her standards this tournament, but she’s also been broken a lot (and hit 25 double faults through the course of the tournament). She’s also not too familiar with Centre Court, where I believe she has only played twice during her Wimbledon career, and which is much safer territory for Kerber. I think in the end, it will be Kerber’s steadiness who wins the day, just as it did against Kasatkina, although it might take quite some time. If she can stay committed to attacking the ball, and accept the fact that Ostapenko is going to rip a bunch of winners, Kerber should make it back to the Wimbledon final. 

Kerber vs Ostapenko is live from Wimbledon’s Centre Court at 1pm BST on Thursday

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Angelique Kerber vs Jelena Ostapenko Wimbledon tennis live: Explosive Ostapenko faces counterpunching Kerber on Centre Court

Grand Slam champions Angelique Kerber and Jelena Ostapenko meet for the first time in the semifinals of Wimbledon but who will prevail? Women’s semifinal tennis live from Wimbledon

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