LONDON -- Four thoughts from the women's semifinals at Wimbledon:
1. Petra Kvitova is back in the Wimbledon final. The 2011 champion beat her friend, countrywoman and practice partner Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 6-1 on Thursday. As she’s done all tournament, Kvitova has played crisp tennis, pounding the ball with power and depth, pinning her opponents behind the baseline. Also, she has kept her head in the tense moments -- in this case, the first-set tiebreak that effectively decided the match. If she can sustain this level of play on Saturday, she has an excellent chance to win a second title.
2. Eugenie Bouchard has survived Wimbledon's "Quarter of Death." The conventional wisdom less than two weeks ago: Too bad Bouchard, the up-and-coming Canadian, has been sent to the Group of Death, drawn into the same quarter as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Otherwise, she could do well. Bouchard not only survived the quarter (helped by Alize Cornet and Angelique Kerber, who upset Williams and Sharapova, respectively) but also backed it up in the semifinals, ousting No. 3 Simona Halep 7-6 (5), 6-2.
We've spoken before about Bouchard's potent strokes, pinpoint returning, aggressive positioning and soaring ambition. But on Thursday she showed what Lindsay Davenport rightly called "remarkable composure." She overcame an injured opponent, an ill fan interrupting the tiebreaker and a shaky call on one of her early match points. She had a few hiccups and needed six match points, but she closed it out. In only her sixth career Grand Slam appearance, she is two set wins from the title.
3. Shame this is how it had to end for Simona Halep. The Romanian played deep into her third straight Grand Slam event (Halep was a French Open finalist and Australian Open quarterfinalist), and she conducted herself in a manner that suggested she felt entirely comfortable. But at 2-1 in the opening set, Halep rolled her ankle retrieving a ball along the baseline. Halep's game is predicated on speed and defense, and compromising those assets is akin to a bad serving day from Milos Raonic.
Halep fought on and was leading 4-2 in the first-set tiebreaker when Bouchard benefited from a lucky net cord. That point seemed to swing the match. Bouchard pulled out the tiebreak and Halep suddenly appeared wounded and fatigued -- all of that match play over the last two months looked to be catching up with her. It was a disappointing end, but overall, this has been a terrific stretch. She's looking increasingly like a future Grand Slam winner -- especially after some much-needed, well-deserved rest and relaxation.
4. Despite losing, it was an exceptional event for the 23rd-ranked Safarova. Fans who watch her play often remark, How does she not do better? The lefty moves exquisitely, hits a flat and aggressive ball, possesses a devastatingly wide serve and uses the entire court. At 27, she's gotten her breakthrough this event, and she'll now be residing firmly in the top 20. We'll say this, too, about Safarova: Mention her to other players and invariably they responded something to the effect of, What a sweet person. You’re here to win matches, not make friends. But when a player has the unanimous admiration of her colleagues, she should be acknowledged for it.
A bonus thought: As the main draw gets to its meatiest rounds, the junior draws are just opening up. Strolling the grounds is akin to catching the side stages at a music festival. Some of the performers you’ll never hear from again, while others will be stars one day. Noah Rubin, a beautiful athlete from New York, upset Francis Tiafoe in the boys' draw. Look for Rubin to play college tennis in the fall. On the adjacent court, Mike Mmoh lost to Johan Sebastien Tatlot, a Frenchman who looks like an NFL cornerback. Look out for American Taylor Harry Fritz, who won in three sets. And choleric top-seeded Andrey Rublev (the Ernests Gulbis of the juniors) fell in three sets as well.
Serena Williams withdrawing from her doubles match the way she did should be receiving huge coverage. What kind of "bug" makes perhaps the greatest female tennis player of all time serve like my preschool child? I hope you report on this "virus."
-- Dominic C.
• We’ll talk about it more later, but this is a tough story to “report.” The Williams camp is -- as is its prerogative -- opaque and private. While you hate simply to take dictation and rely on a vague statement that leaves so many questions unanswered, it’s irresponsible to speculate, absent any concrete information.
The old are not done and over, but the theme of the year could be "The Tides They Are A Changin'" (with a nod to Bob Dylan and his famous song with a slightly different title). The young'ns are coming into shore and the old guard is beginning to drift away -- both on the men's and the women's side. This isn't a sea change, but rather the beginning of a gentle, natural flow. I'm looking forward to a different landscape. Your thoughts?
-- Jennifer J. Christoffersen, Marietta, Ga.
• You put that so eloquently. It should be, like, a song lyric. This event is like 2014 in miniature. The young crowd has made inroads and lost some of its sense of awe. Nick Kyrgios, 19, takes down two-time champion Rafael Nadal on Centre Court. Alize Cornet has multiple wins over Serena this year. Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov (who is set to join the Canadian in the top 10) have reached the semifinals of a major for the first time. Bouchard has advanced to the semis of all three Grand Slams in 2014. And yet, who has won the big prizes? Li Na, Stan Wawrinka (a first-timer but 10-year veteran), Nadal and Sharapova, Let’s see what the weekend holds.
You get a lot of grief about less-than-dead-on predictions. There's so many variables and intangibles predicting ANYTHING in tennis nowadays is an exercise fraught with peril. But looking back to your column a couple of weeks ago, you called the men's semifinals to a T.
-- Bob Fuller, Bloomfield Township, Mich.
• I’ve said it before, but nothing arouses as much vitriolic mail as these stupid predictions. If you pick Nadal, you’re a fanboy who doesn’t give Roger Federer his due. Pick Federer and your anti-Nadal bias is showing. Pick Serena and you’re a Kool-Aid drinker. Pick against Serena and you don’t show proper respect for a champion. You’re a moron and you should be fired when you pick, say, Li, and she crashes early.
Here’s the deal: We all like predictions and mock drafts and projected draws. But when you get it right, you’re not a genius. When you whiff – as I did on the women – you shouldn’t be forced to turn in your credential and banished to cover NASCAR.