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'What day is semi-final?' asks stunned Vesnina

“I’m close to 30. Most of you are thinking that it’s end of the career.”

Elena Vesnina celebrates beating Dominika Cibulkova on day eight of the Wimbledon Championships.
Elena Vesnina celebrates beating Dominika Cibulkova on day eight of the Wimbledon Championships.

RUSSIA’S ELENA VESNINA was so stunned by reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals on Tuesday that she had to double check the day for her Centre Court clash with defending champion Serena Williams.

“It’s on Thursday? Thank God it’s Thursday. Not three days in a row,” said the 29-year-old after breezing past Dominika Cibulkova.

Vesnina caught everyone by surprise as well as herself with her run to the semi-finals, her first at a Grand Slam in her 42nd main draw appearance.

Ranked in the top 30 just three years ago, she slipped out of the top 100 for the first time at the end of 2015.

That was a decline which appeared to confirm that her role in the sport would be in doubles where she has racked up 12 titles.

But the Sochi native has fought her way back to the top 50, beating three top 10 players already in 2016 — Simona Halep in Doha and Belinda Benic, twice, in Charleston and Eastbourne.

In Charleston, she went all the way to the final having gone through qualifying.

“I always knew I could play good on grass. I’m really impressed the way I played the whole tournament,” she said.

“I had a tough start to the year. I’m really happy that it didn’t break me up. I think the difficult times, every single player has to go through it because it makes you better, it makes you stronger.”

Ten years ago at Roland Garros, former number one Justine Henin tipped the then teenage Vesnina for the top.

And the Russian says she never doubted she’d make an impression even if it has taken longer than she — and Henin — had expected.

“Everybody has this kind of time when you’re down and you’re thinking that it’s over, you’re never going to be there, and you’re watching tennis on the TV, how everybody’s winning and playing semifinals, finals of the Grand Slams,” she added.

“I’m close to 30. Most of you are thinking that it’s end of the career. But look at Venus. Look at Serena. It’s just depends on how you feel and how you want to keep going.”

Vesnina had never got beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon before this year or at any of the other Slams.

But she is no stranger to success at the majors winning the 2013 French Open and 2014 US Open women’s doubles with close friend Ekaterina Makarova, who was a bridesmaid at her wedding in November last year.

In January this year, Vesnina teamed with Bruno Soares to win the Australian Open mixed doubles.

But she will be the huge underdog against world number one Serena Williams on Thursday.

The pair have met four times and Williams has won all four without breaking sweat.

The American will again be back on Centre Court where she started her title defence last Tuesday.

On that same day, Vesnina was opening her campaign, beating Austrian qualifier Tamira Paszek on the humble Court 10.

Since then, the Russian blonde has made the most of a draw that opened up, seeing off German 32nd seed Andrea Petkovic, US qualifier Julia Boserup and then Makarova in a three-setter.

Her 6-2, 6-2 win over 19th seed Cibulkova, who had saved a match point in beating third seeded former runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska on Monday, was her most routine victory.

“I think Serena respects me as a player. She was always saying that it’s tough to play against me,” said Vesnina.

“You don’t need to give her a lot of free points. You have to be very, very strong mentally, and put pressure on her on the baseline, to show her you can actually beat her.”

- © AFP, 2016

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