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Fearless Safarova books her place in all-Czech semi-final

Lucie Safarova celebrates her victory in the Quarter-finals
by Vivienne Christie
Tuesday 1 July 2014

Lucie Safarova doesn’t mind that her first Grand Slam semi-final, at Wimbledon tomorrow, will be an all-Czech affair. “We will have a finalist,” she laughed, after becoming the first play to progress to the final eight with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Ekaterina Makarova.

Safarova is pleased too, that the most important match of her tennis career will be against Petra Kvitova, a Fed Cup team-mate and close friend with whom she spent many years training together at the same Prostejov club. Watching her younger countrywoman claim the Wimbledon title in 2011 provided an unmistakable boost to tennis in the Czech Republic and Safarova was as inspired by Kvitova’s success as anybody.

“I know Petra since she was 14 and we are from the same club so I saw her growing (up) and I saw her achieving those great results,” Safarova said. “We always practised. It’s also motivating to see that somebody who is so close to you is reaching the best results ... it’s motivating for you to try to make it too.”

While there are few grass courts in her home nation, Safarova believes there is an easy explanation as to why Czechs compete so well on it. “We have a lot of good players, even in (the) top 100. Tennis has a huge tradition in the Czech Republic. It’s a very popular sport and we are used to changing surfaces, because in the winter we are playing indoors. You kind of change and they are very different, they are fast surfaces indoor,” she pointed out.

“It kind of makes you adapt to different surfaces and we are usually players who are playing really fast and aggressive. So that’s the key to how to play on grass on well, so I think it fits.”

Certainly speed and aggression are qualities evident in Safarova’s best run at a Grand Slam event. Making it to her first semi-final without the loss of a set has showcased her remarkable poise and determination; in her last two matches she’s dropped just five games, each of the victories taking less than an hour to complete.

Her quarter-final against Ekaterina Makarova was perhaps the most remarkable, with the Russian having upset fourth seed and 2012 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska the previous day. There was little to separate the two players in the form guide: both left-handers, they are ranked just one rankings place apart, at No.22 and No. 23 respectively, and had each one a match each in the previous two they’d contested.

But it was Safarova who was clearly the more complete player as she targeted her first major semi-final, the Czech racing to a 3-0 and barely looking back as she hit eight aces and 24 winners in the 58-minute progression, the only hiccup occurring when she faced three break points as she attempted to serve out the first set.

“I was serving really well, I was playing very aggressive, going for my shots. I took her time away. There was a little moment for me at the 5-4 game when I was 40-0 down on the serve and I really turned it well with good serving,” she said. “And (I had) an amazing second set then.”

While riding the momentum of some convincing win is clearly adding confidence, its one of her toughest losses that might have the greater impact. At the Australian Open earlier this year, Safarova surrendered a match point in the third round against eventual champion Li Na; one of the most difficult experiences of tennis career also made her acutely aware of her opportunities that exist in it. “It was really painful for me,” she admitted. “But on the other hand it was also motivating because I could see that I was really close to making it to the best, top ten, that I can beat those top ten (players). I had also a couple of very close matches against Maria Sharapova ... I was patient and I was working and now I’m here.”

The next opportunity against Kvitova is one to be relished, even with the obvious challenges that accompany it. “Petra is loving the grass, she’s a former champion, a great top 10 player and I never beat her but I was really close at Eastbourne, two weeks ago,” Safarova said “She’s a tough one but I have nothing to lose but I’m going to just go and enjoy (it).”

Safarova is right to be confident, knowing that at age 27, she is now showing the best form of her career. “It’s very emotional, it’s very exciting and I’ve worked really hard throughout the years,” she said. “Lost close matches to top 10 players. I was kind of there, but not really converting with the win so I’m really happy that’s finally coming.”

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