WTA Wimbledon Semi-Final Tips: Strong and justified favourites in both matches

Focus at Wimbledon on Thursday is the women's semi-finals, where there's guaranteed to be a first-time Grand Slam finalist. Dan Weston returns to give his thoughts on the two clashes...

Grass-court specialist Maria far beyond previous achievements

At 34 years of age - and turning 35 next month - Tatjana Maria probably thought her chances of Grand Slam glory were long gone. The German veteran had never made it into the top 40 of the world rankings, and had never progressed past the third round of a Grand Slam.

In fact, Maria had only made that stage once - a straight-set defeat as a heavy underdog seven years ago at SW19.

That at least does hint at some form of ability on grass, and that hint would be correct. Maria has won a main tour event (Mallorca, 2018) on the surface and also won two ITF events on grass too.

We can excuse her loss in the other ITF event final - it was against former world number one Ashleigh Barty!

Considering her consistently lowly ranking, Maria's record on grass is reasonable enough - she's won well over 50% of matches and is running at around 100% combined service/return points won - far better than her record on all other surfaces.

She's a grass court specialist, and she's shown it here, although I don't think anyone will have thought this run to the semi-finals likely.

Elite Jabeur should end Maria's dream run

Despite all that, Maria can still be an ultra-heavy underdog at 7.2 to beat Ons Jabeur (1.15) in the semi-finals because the level that Jabeur has shown on the surface over the last couple of years is absurd.

The Tunisian has won over 90% of matches, with a combined service/return points won percentage around the 112% mark. With anything over 110% considered elite, there's no doubt in my mind that Jabeur is an exceptional player on grass.

Particularly on return, there's likely to be a big difference in the abilities of the two players, with Jabeur breaking opponents 12% more on grass in the last two years.

Throw in Jabeur's strong serve - holding over 82% on the surface during the same time period - and you start to see why Maria is priced up at the current market lines. This should be the end of her dream run.

Halep's return game the difference

The second semi-final is a fascinating clash between Elena Rybakina and Simona Halep, following their victories on Wednesday in the later batch of quarter-finals.

Halep saw off the threat of the American, Amanda Anisimova, while Rybakina fought back from dropping the opening set by defeating Ajla Tomljanovic in three.

On grass this season, there's a big statistical difference in the two players.

Rybakina, whose grass numbers show a big serve-oriented dynamic, has better serve numbers, winning just over 2% more service points and holding 83% of the time, which illustrates the challenge Halep will face on Thursday - she will need to dominate on return.

That's something which she's more than capable of. She's won 12% more return points than Rybakina on grass this year, which is quite some difference.

In fact, Halep has broken opponents more than they've held on grass in 2022 - an incredible achievement.

The last meeting between the two players was a very return-oriented match at the US Open last year, where both players struggled to hold serve, and Halep will be keen to drag Rybakina down to that level tomorrow.

Her return ability is why she's favourite at 1.36, and Rybakina (3.7) will need to serve superbly to cause a shock and to reach her first Slam final on Saturday.

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