By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Unseeded Czech Barbora Strycova believes she has the weapons to upset seven-times champion Serena Williams in Thursday’s Wimbledon semi-final and will walk on Centre Court with no fear.
Conventional wisdom suggests the canny 33-year-old, through to her first Grand Slam singles semi-final at the 53rd attempt, will be overpowered by the record-hunting American.
It looked like that was about to happen on Tuesday when she fell 4-1 behind in the face of a withering Johanna Konta onslaught, but Strycova soaked it all up and eventually drove the home favorite to distraction with her superior craft.
Williams represents a far stiffer challenge — not just physically but mentally — but Strycova will trust the game that won her so many plaudits against Konta and in an earlier victory at Wimbledon against big-serving Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens.
Realizing she was never going to win a slug-fest, she cleverly changed the pace, bamboozled the Briton with her skidding double-fisted backhand sliced returns, wicked drop shots and stealthy net raids.
By the end, a panic-ridden Konta appeared to have no idea what to do and was left yanking at her visor in frustration.
Looking ahead to the semi-final, when Williams will start a huge favorite, Strycova said; “I don’t have fear. I just will go there Thursday and I will try to play my game.
“Of course, I don’t have such power like Serena, but I have another weapons. I will try to use them as much as I can. I will enjoy. I have really at this point nothing to lose.
“So I am not really scared to play her. I just really will try my best and I will fight as much as I can.”
Williams has twice fallen at the final hurdle as she tries to move level with Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Having got to within three wins of equaling it again, it is only to be expected that a little anxiety will creep in.
Strycova has the dexterous game to take advantage and drag Williams into the awkward rallies in which she looks at her most uncomfortable.
“I don’t know many players that can play like that,” her coach Lucas Dloughy told reporters. “I never saw a player so talented like Barbora, touch for the ball, covering the court.
“She is playing so good on grass. Always loves to be in Wimbledon, she loves this tournament.”
In reaching the quarter-finals here for the second time Strycova served and volleyed 54 times, more than the other seven players put together.
“I was doing this since I am very young. I love to play volleys. I was playing at home against the wall,” she said.
“When I’m confident I like to play a lot of balls from the net. It’s my territory there.”
Seven-times Grand Slam champion and Eurosport analyst Mats Wilander believes her variety gives her hope, even if she has lost all six sets she has played against the 37-year-old.
“I wouldn’t say this match is a formality,” he said. “You can try and overpower her but it won’t be one-way traffic.
“Barbora will force Serena to try many things and move away from Plan A. She might serve and volley, loop the forehand, play drop shots, Serena will face many scenarios during the match.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)