Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova stood just inside the door of Wimbledon's Centre Court clubhouse, waiting to be called to their semifinal match. The two have been friends, training partners and Fed Cup teammates in the Czech Republic for years.
They wore matching Nike headbands and dresses. They chatted and smiled. Martina Navratilova, the Czech-born champion, said they looked like doubles partners. (Related: Kviotova, the reluctant star)
The doors opened to a warm reception and a sunny day. But niceties evaporated quickly.
The sixth-seeded Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, broke the 23rd-seeded Safarova's first serve, survived a first-set tiebreaker and moved into Saturday's final with a 7-6 (6), 6-1 victory.
"It was a tough match, mentally as well, because Lucie is a good friend of mine," Kvitova said.
There will be no such camaraderie, and a much tougher opponent Saturday, when Kvitova plays 13th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard, a 20-year-old Canadian on a rocket ride toward the top of the women's game.
Bouchard, like Kvitova, tiptoed through a first-set tiebreaker to seize enough momentum to carry her to the final, beating No. 3 Simona Halep, 7-6 (5), 6-2. (Also read: Princess Bouchard is soft on teddy bears, tough on rivals)
She barely cracked a smile. That was partly because she was exasperated at needing six match points and an extra game to finish. It was mostly because Bouchard seems hardwired to stay focused.
"I feel like my job is not done here, so there's no need for a huge celebration because, you know, I'm still working," she said.
The quartet of semifinalists demonstrated, again, that any predictability at the top of women's tennis has been gone for years. Increasingly, each Grand Slam event arrives with no real expectation of who will be left to challenge for the title, which is how this year's Wimbledon semifinals felt, like pairings drawn from a hat.
In each year since 2011, three different women have won the first three Grand Slam events: the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon.
Kvitova, comparatively, is as dependable as they come in late June and early July. She won the final three years ago, beating Maria Sharapova in straight sets. Her size and power make her a formidable opponent for anyone on the quick grass, and she has made perennial trips to the quarterfinals or beyond since 2010. She has now won 25 of her past 28 matches at the tournament.
She will find a no-nonsense opponent in Bouchard, whose match with Halep felt like the day's bigger attraction. Their upward trajectories collided on the sport's most celebrated court.
Bouchard is the only woman to reach the semifinals in the year's first three majors. In her past four Grand Slam tournaments, Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian, reached the fourth round at the U.S. Open, the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and the final of the French Open. Each arrived at Centre Court with 15 Grand Slam match victories this year.
But Bouchard has captured the wealth of attention at Wimbledon, a fresh personality from a country tied to the British Commonwealth, with a name borrowed by her parents from British royalty.
As opposed to many of today's players, content to trade big strokes from beyond the baseline, Bouchard rarely plays outsideÂ the court. She challenges even the hardest servers and hitters, smothering their attacks with offensive strokes. Like a military general, she treats the court as contested ground, pushing forward and hoping to push her opponent back.
But Halep is not like most other players, either. At 5 feet 6 inches, she is a quick-moving throwback to earlier eras, perhaps reminiscent of Kim Clijsters, with the combination of strength and agility to unsettle the tall, hard-swinging baseliners of today.
They traded breaks early in a jittery first set. The second came when Halep turned her left ankle sliding along the baseline on a missed, game-ending backhand. A trainer taped the ankle, and while Halep displayed little discomfort, Bouchard kept her running, often hitting behind her to force quick changes in direction.
Neither could shake her opponent for most of an hour on an unusually bright and warm day. The first-set tiebreaker was interrupted for several minutes by a medical emergency a few rows into the crowd. Halep led, 3-2, as officials escorted a woman away.
"It was intense, and then to just kind of not play tennis for three minutes messes up the rhythm," Bouchard said. "But I took it as a challenge. I was like, OK, this is the same for both of us. This is happening. I'll just go out and try my best. I missed the next return. It wasn't a great point. But then I stepped up my game."
The match turned on a forehand at 4-2 struck by Bouchard. With Halep in pursuit of the angle, the ball struck the net cord and dribbled over for a point.
Bouchard won the next three points, too, on her way to securing the vital first set. And, like Safarova in the first semifinal, Halep's game hiccupped as her opponent strengthened with confidence.
"She is very focused," said Halep, impressed enough to say that she believes Bouchard is headed to the top of the rankings. "She's tall. When she stays very close to the baseline, it's like you see just her on court. She's moving really well, so she's everywhere on court. She's a great player."
Bouchard will find a different style in Kvitova, and might be wise to look to Safarova for ideas. A better mover and scrambler than her friend, Safarova temporarily kept Kvitova off balance with a mix of speeds and cross-court shots.
But Kvitova's relentless ground strokes, like a ball machine turned to full power, kept Safarova backed behind the baseline more than she wanted.
Safarova had never beaten Kvitova in five previous tries, but came closest on grass at Eastbourne last month, losing a third-set tiebreaker.
They were inseparable through a well-played first set until a tiebreaker. Neither could take charge until Safarova swatted a forehand into the net, and Kvitova hit an unreturnable cross-court forehead on set point. She screamed, likely in relief as much as excitement.
Kvitova broke Safarova's serve moments later, on her way to the two-set victory. Safarova, trailing, 1-3, in the second set, had a break point that she could not convert. The match was never in doubt again.
Kvitova closed it out with a backhand cross-court winner, bringing the crowd to its feet. The two players met at the net with a long hug before heading separate ways, their suspended friendship renewed.