2018 champion Kerber, first-timers into Wimbledon semifinals

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When Angelique Kerber grabbed the opening set of her Wimbledon quarterfinal, the full-capacity crowd saluted the accomplishment with cheers that bounced off the closed roof at No. 1 Court. Kerber’s reaction? Just a matter-of-fact, straight-faced stroll to the sideline. No shouts or leaps or fist pumps. Unlike the other women headed to the semifinals at the All England Club, this is not new to her. Not at all. It’s just that it’s been a while.

The owner of three Grand Slam titles, including at Wimbledon in 2018, Kerber moved back into the final four at the grass-court major by using her knee-to-the-turf agility and quick reflexes to beat No. 19 seed Karolina Muchova 6-2, 6-3 on Tuesday.

“I really enjoy every moment here,” Kerber told the packed house on the first day of 100% capacity in the two main stadiums after after COVID-19 restrictions placed a 50% cap on attendance when the fortnight began.

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“I’m so, so happy to be here again in the semis. That means a lot to me.”

Kerber, a 33-year-old left-hander from Germany, will next go up against No. 1 Ash Barty or 75th-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic, who met later Tuesday in the first all-Australian major quarterfinal in 40 years.

Barty won the 2019 French Open, but neither she nor Tomljanovic ever had been to the quarterfinals at the All England Club.

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Indeed, this was the first time in the Open era, which began in 1968, that the tournament had six first-time women’s quarterfinalists. Only Kerber and Muchova boasted past experience.

The other semifinal Thursday will be No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka against No. 8 Karolina Pliskova, who both won in straight sets.

Sabalenka collected her tour-leading 34th match win of 2021 by eliminating No. 21 seed Ons Jabeur 6-4, 6-3 at Centre Court, and Pliskova eliminated unseeded Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 6-2 at No. 1 Court.

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Pliskova – the 2016 U.S. Open runner-up to Kerber and, like her, formerly ranked No. 1 – claimed 24 of 26 points on her serve in one stretch, hit eight aces and saved the only three break chances she faced.

“I feel like I’m improving with every match. … Everything today was working quite well,” Pliskova said. “I just feel my game is good the last two weeks, even in the practices.”

She averaged 106.5 mph on her first serves, 20.5 mph faster than Golubic.

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Pliskova has been broken only three times through five matches so far and has not dropped a set.

She also hasn’t played anyone ranked better than 47th yet. Now she’ll face more of a test.

Jabeur’s game is full of novelty and nuance, with drop shots and all manner of angles and spin.

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Sabalenka? She is all about power and big cuts at the ball, and even with that constantly aggressive style, she managed to accumulate more winners, 27, than unforced errors, 20.

“I’m happy that, from the side, it looks like everything is working for me. Sometimes it’s really tricky, shots on the grass. Sometimes it’s tough to do anything with the ball,” said Sabalenka, a 23-year-old from Belarus who hadn’t been past the fourth round at any major previously.

“I’m really happy I’m still here in the tournament and that somehow I find a way to win matches here.”

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In the day’s lone men’s singles match, No. 14 seed Hubert Hurkacz came back to beat No. 2 Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the resumption of a fourth-rounder contest suspended Monday night.

Hurkacz’s first Grand Slam quarterfinal will come against 20-time major champion Roger Federer on Wednesday.

“Roger, what he does, the way he plays, the titles he has won – he has inspired so many people,” said Hurkacz, a 24-year-old from Poland.

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“It’s going to be fun. I’ll be hoping to get a little bit of support.”

Kerber was certainly the best known and most accomplished of the women left in the draw as Tuesday began.

And now she’s into her eighth Grand Slam semifinal, with half coming at Wimbledon, most recently three years ago, when she beat Serena Williams for the championship.

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Kerber extended her current winning streak to 10 matches, including a title at a grass-court tuneup in Germany last month, and her first-round exits on the Australian Open’s hard courts in February and French Open’s red clay in May seem like forever ago.

Her game bothered Muchova the same way it troubled 17-year-old American Coco Gauff in the fourth round – with shots steered so quickly, low to the ground and flat.

Kerber only compiled 15 winners, but that was enough because she limited Muchova to just two forehand winners herself, compared to a combined 33 unforced or forced errors with that stroke.

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Muchova appeared to give herself at least the possibility of turning things around by breaking to lead 2-1 in the second set. But Kerber, so steady if not spectacular, broke right back when Muchova sent a forehand long to cap a 13-stroke exchange.

That was pretty much that.

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