Former world number one Ana Ivanovic suggested she may be overcoming her fear of grass at last as she moved within one win of her first-ever final on the green stuff.
The top-seeded Serb scored her third successive straight-sets win of the week, a 6-1, 6-4 success against Klara Koukalova, the sixth-seeded Czech, to reach the semi-finals of the Birmingham Open, a significantly upgraded pre-Wimbledon tournament.
Ivanovic served well, moved well, hit her ground strokes with sufficient rhythm, and resisted sternly during an important phase when Koukalova was keeping her nose in front by holding serve during the second set.
She then carved out a timely break and converted it with an eye-catching confidence which suggested she may indeed bet getting a new mentality.
If so, it has taken Ivanovic into her 27th year to feel less apprehensive about the surface, moving on which she once described as “like getting stuck to the ground”.
She attributes it partly to dialogue with her new coach, Nemanja Kontic, even though she says he has no experience of grass at all.
“I think I have a better game plan,” she said. “I am more aggressive this year and I’m coming in (to the net) at the better times as well.
“It’s also about shot selection. This is why I think someone who understands the game can see that – regardless of the surface,” she said of Kontic.
Ivanovic’s reward is a semi-final with Zhang Shuai, a hard-working world number 34 from Tianjin, who needed less than an hour to upset Sloane Stephens, the third-seeded American 6-3, 6-1.
Stephens gradually became prey to self-criticism and disappointment as Zhang’s consistency increasingly lured the 21-year-old into errors and disruptive emotions. It earned Zhang a chance to emulate her compatriot Li Na, the world number two, who won this title four years ago.
“I think today because I was on centre court I felt great,” said Zhang. “There were so many people watching and supporting me. I think this is why I played well.
“I said that I would never play well on grass but this is really a good tournament for me. I am still learning every day how to play on grass.”
The other semi-final will be between two surprise survivors, Casey Dellaqua, the 16th-seeded Australian, and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, the world number 62 from the Czech Republic.
Strycova played well in her 6-4, 6-2 win over Kirsten Flipkens, the fourth-seeded Belgian who reached the semi-finals of last year’s Wimbledon but here looked less than fully fit.
Dellacqua allowed only one game to Kimiko Date-Krumm, the remarkable 43-year-old Japanese player who halted the defending champion Daniela Hantuchova yesterday.
Now, though, Date-Krumm appeared exhausted after competing in both singles and doubles on successive days. “Kimiko’s still amazing,” said Dellacqua, who grew up playing on grass in Perth. She moves as well as many of the younger players.
“I didn’t have a doubles yesterday like she did. I was lucky not to play her yesterday. She’s an inspiration.”