By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) – In years to come when tennis fans flick through the hefty 500-page Wimbledon Compendium, they will note that in 2019 Simona Halep rolled over Ukrainian Elina Svitolina in the semi-finals for the loss of just four games.
What the 6-1 6-3 scoreline will not reveal, however, was that Halep took nine minutes to hold serve in the opening game of the encounter played out in glorious sunshine on Centre Court or that Svitolina earned and squandered three break points.
Readers will also have no idea that the first two games alone lasted 20 exhilarating minutes, featuring 10 break points and that Svitolina could have been 2-0 up if she had capitalised on the numerous opportunities that fell her way.
Instead, it was Halep who grabbed the 2-0 lead before running away with a victory that put her one win from becoming the first Romanian to lift a Wimbledon singles trophy.
“It is an amazing feeling. I am very excited and nervous, It was one of the best moments of my life and I am trying to enjoy it,” said a beaming Halep after her 73-minute destruction set up a final against Serena Williams.
“I am going to fight to the end because I really want to win this championship.”
As both Halep and Svitolina stretched every sinew running to chase down everything their opponent could throw at them in rallies that went on for over 20 shots, fans who had settled into their $200 seats thought they were about to witness a show-stopping battle that could become an all-time classic.
But just when Williams and Barbora Strycova, who were waiting in the wings ready to contest the second semi-final, might have been contemplating if they would need to change their dinner plans, Halep was broken to love in the very next game.
It was that sort of a strange match.
A clash that had looked close on paper, with eighth seed Svitolina holding a 4-3 advantage in head-to-head meetings with seventh seed Halep, ended up being thin on drama.
Before Svitolina had a chance to daydream about what it would be like to become the first Ukrainian to feature in a Wimbledon singles final, she had lost the first set without holding her serve even once.
It might have taken Halep 20 minutes to win the first two games, but the rest of the set lasted only another 23 minutes to the disappointment of not only Svitolina but also her tennis-playing boyfriend Gael Monfils who sat frowning in the players’ box.
The daughter of a former wrestler, Svitolina simply struggled to grapple with Halep’s solid baseline tactics and the crowd also found it hard to make much sense of what they were witnessing.
“In the beginning you want to make a statement that you are there for the fight. I didn’t take my chances. That’s was disappointing,” said Svitolina.
When Svitolina finally held serve for the first time to open the second set, the ‘sympathy clap’ that usually follows such occasions was also missing. It appeared as if the 15,000 spectators had lost interest in a match that was heading for only one conclusion.
Halep stormed through her first three service games in the second set without dropping a point and within a blink of an eye, she held two match points at 5-3 up on Svitolina’s serve.
A forehand error on the first delayed her celebrations but she made no mistake on the second when the Ukrainian netted a backhand.
Sticking her tongue out, Halep looked up to the heavens with arms held aloft as she soaked up the standing ovation from the cheering fans having completed a win she described as “one of my best on grass”.
While Halep tried to play down the demolition job by suggesting “it is not like the scoreline looks, each game went long and deep”, Svitolina summed up the 27-year-old Romanian’s performance by saying: “She played unbelievable today.
“She was moving really good, striking the ball perfectly. It was a little bit me making poor decisions in some important moments, and her playing unbelievably which made the score like that.”
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)