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Lucie Safarova puts paid to Smitkova's Wimbledon dreams

Lucie Safarova celebrates her win
by Michael Beattie
Monday 30 June 2014

After two weeks, seven matches and another teary-eyed finale, Tereza Smitkova’s Wimbledon odyssey is over. The 19-year-old qualifier finally met her match against fellow Czech Lucie Safarova, who marches on to the quarter-finals of The Championships for the first time after a clinical 6-0 6-2 win.

Alongside Petra Kvitova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, No.23 seed Safarova is one of three Czechs through to the last eight of the Ladies’ Singles draw, a first for the country at a Grand Slam. Should she beat Ekaterina Makarova in the next round, the nation is guaranteed to have a player in Saturday’s final.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Safarova beamed. “It shows that our tennis is really strong, we have great players. I’m happy for my country and I hope we just keep developing more stars like that.

“As for me, I’m really excited because it’s been a while since I made quarters, and my first time at Wimbledon. It’s a huge result for me – I hope it’s not the last one, it’s just the start. Today was a great match for me, so I’m looking forward for the next one.

Unlike Bojana Jovanovski, beaten by Smitkova in three tights sets after ousting Victoria Azarenka, Safarova successfully carried the momentum of her own surprise win – over Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova – into a match she was expected to run away with. Smitkova’s fine serve and forehand have carried her far at the All England Club, but was disarmed by the world No.23’s superior movement and depth and never allowed to settle into her rhythm.

Smitkova got off to a nervy start on Court 18, firing a forehand that barely bounced before the backstop to give up a break in the opener. She settled down with a series of fine returns in the next game, but Safarova was in no mood for charity and peppered the baseline to move two breaks clear at 3-0. Try as she might, Smitkova was overwhelmed by Safarova in all departments, and the first set was over in 21 minutes.

The crowd produced its loudest cheer of the match when the world No.175 held serve at the start of the second, finally finding a way to soften up Safarova with a barrage of cross-court forehands into the left-hander’s backhand before picking her spot off the short ball. But it was a brief respite; a double fault handed the No.23 seed a break at 3-2, and from there the result was a formality. When Smitkova, teary-eyed towards the end of the encounter, hooked a forehand wide, Safarova yelled in delight and looked skyward before meeting her compatriot, smiling at last, at the net.

Both players had reason to be cheerful. For Smitkova, there is the consolation of £117,000 in prize money – almost treble her career earnings to date – and 240 ranking points that will lift her within sight of the world’s top 100.

For Safarova, there is a first Grand Slam quarter-final since the 2007 Australian Open to prepare for. Awaiting her there will be No.22 seed Makarova, who downed 2013 Wimbledon semi-finalist Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets on Monday. The duo have met twice before, winning once apiece. In seeding, style and form, the two could not be better matched.

“She’s a leftie as well, playing well on grass, obviously playing flat from both sides,” Safarova said. “I’ve got respect for her, she’s a good player, but I am also playing really well, these last few matches, so it will be a great match. I’m excited about it.”

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