Tennis: ‘I can’t really believe it’, says Linette as she reaches her first Grand Slam semi

Poland's Magda Linette celebrates after winning her quarter-final match against Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova. PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE – Sometimes, it is not the wins or the defeats that will motivate an athlete, but simply missing out on a chance to just compete.

Polish tennis player Magda Linette said that not having the opportunity to participate in the Australian Open two years ago because of a chronic knee injury made her more determined to reignite her career, as she prepares for her first Grand Slam semi-final on Thursday.

The late-blooming 30-year-old goes into the last four against Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka after earning a 6-3, 7-5 win over former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova on Wednesday, having never made it past the third round of a Slam before.

Linette withdrew from the 2021 Australian Open one day before her flight to Melbourne because of a knee injury that took 11 weeks to diagnose and kept her sidelined for five months.

She was envious of the players who competed that year, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, after spending two weeks in quarantine upon arrival.

“It was honestly the most painful experience of my life,” Linette said after her win.

“I had meniscus surgery, but because it was kind of tricky where the injury was, nobody could really see what was happening.

“Literally one day before my flight, the pain and the uncomfortable feeling that I had came back with some extra force.

“(I) listened to everybody complaining about the isolation, and I was so jealous that they had to do it, because I really wanted to be there.”

Linette, who has credited her improved mental strength for her Melbourne run, said she had doubts about the future of her career after returning from the lengthy layoff but found herself calmer than ever on court after returning to competition.

“Why? Because I think it couldn’t be really worse, right? I honestly didn’t play for five months,” she said.

“I was very determined to come back as soon as I can. It definitely changed a lot for me. I became a little bit calmer. I changed a lot in my life and made some tough decisions, and I think I’m getting rewarded for it now.”

While she believes that she has mellowed, she still reacted with excitement and disbelief after her win over Pliskova.

The unheralded Pole played wonderfully controlled tennis that belied her ranking of 45th in the world to wrap up a thoroughly deserved victory in the blazing sun on Rod Laver Arena.

“It’s so much and I can’t really believe it,” she said.

“It’s really dreams come true. We keep going, though, I don’t want to get too excited because we’re still in the tournament, but I’m super grateful and happy.”

After both players were broken in their opening service game, Linette showed the greater composure and took control of the first set as Pliskova racked up 14 of the 36 unforced errors she would make over the match.

Pliskova knew she had to raise her game in the second set and ramped up the rasping forehands but Linette had the answer to everything the Czech threw at her.

Next up for Linette is Sabalenka, who looks red-hot favourite to win her first major crown after a gritty display in defeating Croatia’s Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2 at Rod Laver Arena.

Fifth-seeded Sabalenka is the highest remaining seed left in a women’s draw that has been upended by shocks.

The match was closer than the score suggested, but Sabalenka is in scintillating form – she is yet to drop a set in Melbourne and has won all nine matches in 2023.

It is a far cry from a year ago, when she struggled badly with her serve and was reduced to tears at an Australian Open warm-up tournament.

“It feels really special to be in the semi-finals here, it was a tough match,” said Sabalenka, 24, who was competing in her first Australian Open quarter-final.

“I’m super happy with the win and it was so great to play here today, the atmosphere was unbelievable.” REUTERS, AFP

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