Photo: Takeo TanumaDiede de Groot (NED)
It was different for Diede de Groot at Wimbledon last year. She was a 20-year-old on debut, anointed by the great Esther Vergeer as her long-term successor, but not yet seeded to reach the final she won 60 64 against Sabine Ellerbrock.
Expectations this year are higher. “So to make it and to actually play well enough to get there is just special again,’’ De Groot said after Friday’s 61 75 semifinal defeat of South African Kgothatso Montjane.
“Last year I was number three or four in the world and it was my first time on grass, so I actually didn’t have any expectations at all. I just wanted to have fun and I think I did that very well last year and now that’s completely changed.
“I guess it is a bit difficult. It does bring more pressure. It gives you sort-of a better feeling because you know you’re playing well and you’re doing well, but it also just puts a lot of pressure on you to keep your head in the game.’’
So far, so successfully, de Groot having added the 2018 Australian Open title to her growing list in between finals at both the US Open and Roland Garros.
She leads her finals opponent, Dutch countrywoman Aniek van Koot, 7-4 head-to-head, van Koot winning a marathon third set tiebreak 13-11 for a come-from-behind win over second seed Yui Kamiji in Friday’s semifinals.
“I have played against Aniek a lot and every match is different, so I just have to play my best tennis,'' de Groot said. "I played a lot of times against her when I was still very young and then only the last two years I started to play really well.’’
But she is still so young, just 21. Does it sometimes feel like it has all happened so quickly? “Sometimes maybe even too fast,’’ she smiles. “I think it is very important that you keep growing and keep working to this certain thing and sometimes I feel like I’ve already reached it, even though I know my game can improve so much more. So I do need to keep my own standards high and keep raising my own bar.
“This week I’m just happy with my mentality. I think I’ve been fighting and I have had to fight every match so it’s just a really good feeling that even though the players are playing well and it’s not going as easily, I still need to fight and that’s what I’ve been doing.
“I think it’s one of the best tournaments of the year, and for us as well as wheelchair tennis players it’s just so special that we’re included here. We’re treated just like the other players and tomorrow we get to play on the showcourt, so it’s just great. It does feel really special to be here.
“I’m just really looking forward to it. I’m back as the same venue, same court - Court Three - as last year and I just want to really enjoy it and just be in the moment.’’
De Groot and Kamiji also qualified for the doubles final, while the men’s will be contested by British No.2 seeds Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid against Joachim Gerard and Stefan Olson. Defending men’s singles champion Stefan Olsson is also back in the title match, and will meet Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina on Sunday in a replay of the 2017 final.
Olsson extended his winning sequence on grass in with yet another accomplished performance, defeating world No. 2 Alfie Hewett 62 64. For Fernandez, runner-up last month at Roland Garros, it will be a second successive Grand Slam singles final after he defeated Belgium’s Joachim Gerard 61 46 62.
Olsson will also feature alongside Gerard in Saturda’s men’s doubles final after the duo upset top seeds Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer 61 36 75 in their semifinal. It will be the first time in three years that Houdet and Peifer have not been in the final. And the final came close to being without either of the finalists in the last two years, but defending champions Alfie Hewett and Alfie Hewett managed to hold on in a thrilling finale to their semifinal to deny Fernandez and Kunieda 64 36 86(3).
The outcome of the two women’s doubles semifinals is set to be significantly different. De Groot and Kamiji were in irresistible form as the top seeds raced past Germany’s Katharina Kruger and Kgothatso Montjane on a mixed day for South African players in semifinnals. De Groot and Kamiji needed just 47 minutes to win 60 60. Meanwhile, with the women’s doubles final scheduled for Sunday, the other semifinal will be decided on Saturday after the match between Sabine Ellerbock and Lucy Shuker and the all-Dutch partnership of Buis and van Koot was suspended, due to bad light, with Ellerbrock and Shuker 3-1 up in the third and deciding set.