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Briefs from Birmingham 2014: Stephens & Ivanovic storm to semis

A backhand stroke by Sloane Stephens.
by Michael Beattie
Friday 13 June 2014

Grass is notoriously quick, but Friday’s quarter-finals at Edgbaston were as quickfire as they come. Wimbledon.com reports…

Major headlines

Sloane Stephens admitted she has had trouble sleeping in Birmingham. Re-runs of NCIS have taken her mind off the problem for much of the week but the third seed seemed to sleepwalk her way out of the tournament against Shuai Zhang, who booked her spot in the semi-finals with a comprehensive 6-3 6-1 win.

Where Stephens was careless, Zhang was clinical. The Chinese No. 9 seed has never felt more confident on grass, striking early and readily coming to the net en route to a fourth victory this week. An early break was all she needed to secure the first set before she raced away with the second, Stephens racking up the unforced errors against a solid performance from her 25-year-old opponent.

Meilen Tu, Zhang’s agent, reached the semi-finals at Edgbaston in 1996 and convinced Zhang she could adapt her game for grass at Roland Garros. “She gave me a lot of confidence, helping me go to the Saddlebrook [Academy], Florida. They have the grass courts – after French Open I go there. Everybody [was] helping me to practice on grass, so this why I’m feeling happy on grass now.”

Zhang hopes her newfound affinity for the surface can help her break her Grand Slam duck at Wimbledon – in 10 main draw appearances, she has never been beyond the first round – but first she faces top seed Ana Ivanovic in Saturday’s semi-final.

Ivanovic is yet to drop a set at this year’s tournament; Klara Koukalova became her third straight-set victim as the strain of back-to-back recoveries from a set down to reach the quarters finally caught up with her.

Koukalova took a medical time out at the start of the second set for treatment to her right thigh, and while the Czech bounced back well in the second set Ivanovic was not to be denied, trading breaks before wrapping up a 6-1 6-4 victory in 72 minutes.

Casey Dellacqua claimed the day’s quickest victory with a 48-minute 6-1 6-0 win over Kimiko Date-Krumm. It was a sorry end for the Japanese 43-year-old, who had feared that the toll of her run to the quarter-finals of both the singles and doubles events might catch up with her. But Dellacqua’s week keeps getting better – she followed up her singles victory with a 6-4 6-4 win in the doubles quarter-finals alongside Ashleigh Barty.

Biggest upset

Barbora Zahlavova Strycova has also racked up plenty of court time en route to the quarter-finals, but the Czech looked far fresher than fourth seed Kirsten Flipkens as she booked a semi-final showdown with Casey Dellacqua courtesy of a 6-4 6-2 win.

“I'm feeling very happy because I was playing perfect match today,” said Zahlavova Strycova. “I was feeling great on the court and I was also playing very well, so I am pleased with my performance.

“I never played Casey – it's going to be very challenging. She's lefty, and especially on grass it's very difficult to play against lefties.”

Best match

Zhang’s first singles appearance on Ann Jones Court coincided with her finest display of the week – and she’s not done yet: “Of course I want to win the tournament, I think this is everybody’s goal.”

And not just in the singles draw. The 25-year-old is also through to the semi-finals of the doubles alongside Caroline Garcia, making Saturday another long day on court.

“I'm surprised,” she admitted. “Friday still in the tournament singles and doubles, this is first time in like this tournament. I'm so happy.”

Unsung hero

A year ago, Casey Dellacqua re-committed herself to life on the singles circuit. Six months later she was on the cusp of the world’s top 100. Having started the week at No.43 in the rankings, the 29-year-old ensured herself a new career-high ranking next Monday by reaching the semi-finals.

“My career high was 39, but that was back in 2008. I feel like I'm a completely different, better, well rounded player than I was back then, so I felt like I could beat that ranking.

“It will be nice to see the rankings coming out. Obviously I've got to finish off this week first and that all will take care of itself. It's nice to know that all my hard work is paying off.”

One more win at Edgbaston and the former world No.39 will notch up another career first: a WTA final appearance. Two more and she'll have a first title, as well as a shot at a singles seeding at Wimbledon.

They said

“Well, I know the British actor Theo James, I think he's kind of handsome. Obviously would be cool to meet Brad Pitt – actually I would love to meet Meryl Streep, too” – Ana Ivanovic pitches her perfect celebrity guest list for the Wimbledon pre-party

“After having a couple surgeries and time out of the game I feel like I'm out here and I just want to finish my career saying that I did everything I could. So, yeah, I feel proud of where I'm at. I would like to go one further and hopefully make a final. That would be pretty special” – Casey Dellacqua has a new appreciation for the sport as she reaches a new career-high ranking for the first time since 2008

“Honestly, no, because I came here so late. I came Sunday night because I was playing German League on clay court. I had just one practice, like one hour, and then I went on to play a match” – Barbora Zahlavova Strycova admits she never expected to reach the semi-finals after rushing to Edgbaston

Tomorrow’s action

Singles semi-finals:

Ana Ivanovic (SRB) v Shuai Zhang (CHN)

Casey Dellacqua (AUS) v Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE)

Doubles semi-finals:

Cara Black (ZIM) & Sania Mirza (IND) v Raquel Kops-Jones (USA) & Abigail Spears (USA)

Caroline Garcia (FRA) & Shuai Zhang (CHN) v Casey Dellacqua (AUS) & Ashleigh Barty (AUS)

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