(24 JAN.) In a battle between former and current World No.1s it was Kim who was rewarded for her typically more aggressive approach to the match. Although she let slip a set and 5-2 lead, the Belgian steadied in a second set tiebreak, wrapping up a 6-3 7-6(4) win over Caroline Wozniacki to reach the Australian Open semifinals.
Today’s blockbuster quarterfinal between Kim and Caroline Wozniacki confirmed two things. One was that Kim's ankle – which has sustained a nasty twist during her dramatic 4th round win over Li Na – does not seem to be hampering her unduly. The second was that the Dane, despite her commitment to working hard and improving her game, remains unable to hurt the heaviest hitters in the game.
Kim said that instead of thinking about the match against the Dane, the past two days had been spent focusing on intensively rehabilitating her battered ankle. She was couch-bound, alternating between ice-on and ice-off for 20 minutes each, elevating her leg, and receiving lymphatic drainage treatment.
Perhaps it released the pre-match pressure valve somewhat, as Kim for the most part produced a free-swinging performance. No doubt keenly aware that she was lucky to be alive in the competition after saving four match points against Li, and the fact that she has said this is her last Australian Open, Kim is playing with a sense of purpose, almost destiny.
It was evidenced in how she hit out during a tight second set tie-break, and especially so on the winner she struck to bring up her match points.
'I just had to go for it. I mean, I had a good look on it. I felt like it was sitting right up there, and I felt like I could really rip it inside out', Kim said.
Kim began the match on fire, in the zone from the back of the court and playing ball-on-a-string tennis to gain an early break and open up a 3-1 lead. By the fifth game she'd already struck nine winners to two and showed she was confident in her movement when she employed her trademark split-slide to stretch for a forehand.
Not only was she playing well, but the Belgian giving other WTA players – who have frequently described the Dane as like playing a 'brick wall' – a lesson in how to swing a wrecking ball straight through it.
Unlike Wozniacki's 4th round opponent Jelena Jankovic, who when trying to attack against the No.1 seed persisted in hitting side-to-side into the open court, Kim employed a different tactic. She effectively worked the ball around the court and frequently went in behind Wozniacki with her heavy groundstrokes, robbing the Dane of the chance to get into a groove with her lateral court movement by consistently wrong-footing her.
Yet Kim also has penetration and disguise in her groundstrokes that Jankovic lacks, and using that to her advantage, cemented a 5-2 lead with the loss of just one point in the next two games.
Errors then crept into the 11th seed's game while Wozniacki – as we've come to expect – fought hard. The Dane brought out some excellent tennis in the ninth game when Kim looked poised to capture the first set, but a fifth set point proved too big a hurdle to clear.
Much like the first set, Kim again broke early in the second set to lead 3-1. Points were becoming formulaic – the Belgian repeatedly dragged Wozniacki wide of the court with her heavy crosscourt backhands, and then picked of the generally short reply for a winner. If she didn't do it then, she struck a winner off the next ball after that. It was relentless.
'I was happy with the way that I was playing. It was important to just stay focused one point at a time and to really, whenever you felt like you could go for that winner, just try to do that', Kim surmised. 'I'm very happy with the way that I was able to move.'
Yet she came close to blowing that opportunity when errors began littering her game when she was receiving for the match. She struck a pair of backhands long to allow Wozniacki to hold in the eighth game, and then in a tense game in which she served for the match, lost control of her forehand as well. Kim then fluffed more groundstrokes to allow the Dane to level.
Yet when the set progressed to a tiebreaker, the Belgian proved why she owns four major titles – a cool head under pressure. Despite having lost control of her shots Kim remained true to her high-risk game and fended off her fast-finishing opponent with some big winners.
That massive off-forehand winner set up two match points, before a swinging forehand volley sealed victory. Kim said her superior performance in the very late stages of the second set came down to her greater experience.
'The stress will always be there. It's a part of the sport, and the mental game is just so important', she said. 'I've been on both sides, you know. I have been on sides where the stress has taken over my game. (But) these last few years I have been really able to cope with it and just try to not let it impact me.'
In the semis Kim will face Victoria Azarenka. Their match is scheduled on Thursday and should be played in the afternoon.
(adapted from www.australianopen.com)