Wimbledon preview: Halep, Jabeur face familiar foes

 - Reem Abulleil

Former champion looks to return to the final as Tunisian chases more history

Simona Halep / Quarts de finale Wimbledon 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Three first-time Grand Slam semi-finalists join two-time major champion Simona Halep in Wimbledon’s last-four line-up.

Thursday promises some thrilling action as a quartet of talented players vie for a place in the title decider and a shot at lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish.

Elena Rybakina (KAZ x17) v Simona Halep (ROU x16)

A first major semi-final for Elena Rybakina and a ninth for Simona Halep; there is a gulf in experience between these opponents at this level.

Still, it’s hard to expect this will be a one-sided affair given how tightly-contested their previous meetings have been, and how well they’ve both played so far this fortnight.

The 30-year-old Halep, who has won her last 12 consecutive matches at Wimbledon having clinched the title in her most recent previous appearance in 2019, was particularly ruthless in her straight-set dismissals of No.4 seed Paula Badosa and No.20 seed Amanda Anisimova in her last two rounds.

The former world No.1 has recaptured her confidence and is really feeling her shots on the grass once again.

Rybakina is like a silent assassin. She is stoic, deadly, and has a serve that has earned her a tour-leading 44 aces at these Championships.

The 23-year-old from Kazakhstan made the fourth round on her Wimbledon debut last year and is now one step away from the final.

Halep has yet to drop a set this fortnight while Rybakina dropped her first of the tournament against Ajla Tomljanovic in the quarters on Wednesday.


Rybakina beat Halep via retirement in their first meeting in Wuhan in 2019. Halep edged the Kazakhstani in their other two encounters, which were thrilling duels in the Dubai final in 2020 – one of the best matches of the year – and in the third round of the 2021 US Open.

Their contrasting games make for an exciting match-up and we could see a third three-setter unfold between those two on Thursday.

Rybakina and Halep have both been solid on serve this tournament, with the former winning 85 per cent of her service games and the latter winning 84 per cent.

Halep has won 54 per cent of her return games compared to just 28 per cent for Rybakina.


Halep: “I feel super happy about it. I struggled a lot, as I said many times. Now being in the semis of a Grand Slam, it means a lot. I will take it. I will give myself the credit that I've been really good this period of two, three months. I work hard. “It's just joy to be back in the semi-final of a Grand Slam really.”

Rybakina: “I think that the key (against Halep), of course, is my serve, aggressive game. 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. Also you got quite nervous if you up, down. No matter what's happening, just to stay calm, keep playing point by point.”

Simona Halep, Wimbledon 2019, trophy©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Tatjana Maria (GER) v Ons Jabeur (TUN x2)

Germany’s Tatjana Maria and Tunisian Ons Jabeur are used to hanging out. Whether it’s at a barbeque in Maria’s house in Florida, or at tournaments, where Jabeur jokes around with Maria’s daughters, Charlotte and Cecilia; the two players – and their families – are good friends.

On Thursday though, friendship will have to be set aside when the duo square off in the semis at Wimbledon.

‘Aunt Ons’, as Maria’s eight-year-old daughter Charlotte refers to her, is the first Arab or North African-born player to reach a Grand Slam semi-final and is chasing history every time she steps on court.

She is the No.2 player in the world and is riding a 10-match winning streak, having picked up the title in Berlin in the build-up to these Championships.

Maria is 34 years old and is also contesting the first major semi-final of her career.

The German world No.103 returned from a second maternity leave less than a year ago and is travelling the tour with her husband and two daughters, enjoying every second of the adventure.

Maria notched some big wins en route to the semis, taking out No.5 seed Maria Sakkari and saving two match points before dismissing former Roland-Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko.


Maria defeated Jabeur in their only previous tour-level main draw meeting, in Linz in 2017, but the 27-year-old Tunisian was the victor in their two qualifying clashes at the US Open in 2014 and in Beijing in 2018.

Jabeur dropped her first set of the tournament in her win over Marie Bouzkova in the quarters and has spent three fewer hours on court compared to Maria.

The third seed has lost her serve just eight times in 47 service games while Maria has been broken 19 times through five matches.


Jabeur: “I was joking with Charlotte, I was telling her, ‘Are you going to support me or your mom?’ I'm trying to turn all the kids to my side, using the family.

“They are really nice. I'm really happy for her that she's getting what she deserves. I know she struggled a lot. It's not easy coming back after having two babies. It's going to be a great match between us, a lot of respect, for sure. Maybe not be friends for two hours or, I don't know how long the match will go, and be friends again at the end.”

Maria: :I always believed that I have something inside, that I can do this. I always believed in this, but to be now here in this spot... I mean, one year ago I gave birth to my second daughter. If somebody would tell me one year later you are in a semi-final of Wimbledon, that's crazy.”