WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — In a roundabout way, Simona Halep is finally getting a chance to defend her Wimbledon title.
And she’s picking up right where she left off.
Halep won the title at the grass-court Grand Slam in 2019, but she missed a chance to play as reigning champion in 2020 because the tournament was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. She then missed a second chance last year because of an injured left calf.
“That was the perfect match of my life,” Halep said of her straight-set victory over Serena Williams three years ago. “Now I’m playing really well. I’m feeling confident that I feel the game the way I felt back then.”
The 16th-seeded Halep extended her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches and reached the semifinals for the third time by beating Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-4 Wednesday on Centre Court.
In the semifinals on Thursday, again on Centre Court, Halep will face Elena Rybakina in the second match of the day. The 17th-seeded Rybakina defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 on No. 1 Court in Wednesday’s other quarterfinal match.
Third-seeded Ons Jabeur will play Tatjana Maria in the first semifinal match. They advanced by winning their quarterfinal matches on Tuesday.
In the men’s quarterfinals, two-time champion Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios both won Wednesday and will play Friday in the semifinals. Nadal beat Taylor Fritz 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4) on Centre Court. Kyrgios defeated Cristian Garin 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) on No. 1 Court.
Halep is making her 10th appearance at Wimbledon. She is the only Grand Slam champion left in the women’s tournament, winning the French Open in 2018 before taking the title at the All England Club the next year.
“I’m different. I play different. I play well now. All the matches were different than in 2019,” Halep said. “I think every match I got a little bit better. I had tough opponents, and I did what I had to do every day.”
The match against Anisimova appeared to be as straightforward as her first four victories at this year’s tournament — all came in straight sets. But the 20th-seeded American broke Halep when she was serving for the match at 5-2.
Anisimova then had three more break points when Halep again served for the match at 5-4, but the Romanian won five straight points to finish the match.
“I feel like she played without thinking that she has something to lose, so every ball was really hard hit,” Halep said. “But I refused that she’s going to come at 5-all. Even if I was 0-40, I was hard a little bit on myself. I pumped myself. I served very well.”
Halep injured her left calf more than a year ago, forcing her to withdraw from last year’s French Open and Wimbledon. She started working with Patrick Mouratoglou, the former coach of Williams, in April and has now matched her best run at a major since reaching the semifinals at the 2020 Australian Open.
Next up for the Romanian will be Rybakina, a 23-year-old Kazakh who is playing at Wimbledon for only the second time in her career. She lost in the fourth round last year.
Rybakina dropped her first set of the tournament but broke Tomljanovic early in the second and third sets. She finished the match with 15 aces.
“I think that the key, of course, is my serve, aggressive game,” Rybakina said of her next match against Halep. “She’s a great champion. She’s moving really well, reading the game. I just try to do my best, focus on things which I can control: my serve, my shots, emotions.”
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