Barbora Zahlavova Strycova is one of the more interesting people to watch play tennis.
She is a bundle of aggressive energy, one who seems to put every exclamation and anguished expression into her shots themselves. She slices, spins, changes things up, seemingly on the whim of her emotions. Sometimes, it works spectacularly. Sometimes, not so. But last week, she was fist-pumping with gusto rather than grim defeat as she caused the first major upset of Wimbledon 2014, playing one of the matches of her career to defeat an off-key Li Na. It was her first victory over a top 10 player.
This week, her first appearance in the second week of Wimbledon, she produced another. Defeating Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 7-5, to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final, the 28-year-old raised her head to the heavens and yelled.
“It's been unbelievable,” she said. “I can't believe it, like I said already. I put a lot of work into it, and I knew always that I can play good on grass. Now the results shows off and I am glad about it.”
Zahlavova Strycova, one of the record-breaking three Czech women to reach the quarter-finals here at Wimbledon and finalist in Birmingham two weeks ago, came racing out of the Court 12 stands, afforded an earlier start after the withdrawal of Madison Keys from the previous match.
She wheeled through the first set in 35 minutes, firing 13 winners to Wozniacki’s three, despite hitting six more unforced errors.
“I think, you know, for me it's the hardest to play against her on grass. On clay and on hard court, you know, the ball bounces up a little bit more,” Wozniacki said.
“But she obviously tries to mix up the pace. She makes a lot of drop shots, a lot of slice returns that doesn't bounce up. Kind of gets you out of your rhythm a little bit.”
In the second, the Czech’s first serve percentage dropped considerably, from 73 percent to below 50, as Woznacki’s fabled defence came into action.
The Dane was in line for the best Wimbledon of her career, having made the fourth round on four occasions, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2014, but never finding her way further.
Her unforced errors were contained, producing just three for the match, but she was in the end undone by Zahlavova Strycova’s ability to open up the court and find the gap.
Saving five match points before succumbing, it was ultimately not Wozniacki’s day. But it has been a better time on the court for her than others.
“I'll take a lot,” she said. “I'll take a lot with me. Had a good week in Eastbourne. Played some really good tennis. I was really happy about that.
“First week here I played really well. Today unfortunately it wasn't as good. But, you know, I can take a lot with me and bring to the hard court season. There’s a lot to look forward to.”
Zahlavova Strycova meanwhile, is playing some of the tennis of her life, one of those rare players who successfully followed up an upset. And, she says, it means all the more having taken some time out of the game.
“The first two months I didn't want to come back. Then I missed it. I missed the feeling of working out, the feeling of winning matches, and being on tour.
“It was tough, but on the other hand, it also brings me some positive things. Like I say, I am seeing the sport a little bit different now. And here I am.”
In a Wimbledon quarter-final, no less. Look out, Petra Kvitova.
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