Heading into the women's quarterfinals of this year's Wimbledon, all the four match-ups had clear favourites. Serena Williams over Alison Riske, Simona Halep over Zhang Shuai, Johanna Konta over Barbara Strycova and (for most people) Elina Svitolina over Karolina Muchova. And yet, the players did not fail to deliver exhilarating exhibition of tennis; there were big scares, nailbiting finishes, upsets, and dominant displays all in one day.
And at the end of all of that, we have the semifinals lineup ready. Williams will take on Strycova (in her Grand Slam semifinal debut) and Halep will slog it out with Svitolina (who is also playing her first semifinal at a Grand Slam) for the all important spot in the finals.
There were many highlights, but few could match up Serena Williams and Alison Riske's epic three-set battle.
The match, which lasted over two hours, was played at an exceptional level and it came down to Williams serving well during crunch situations that got her the win in the end.
Here, we take a look at the Williams serve and other showcase displays on Day 9 of the Championships.
Best serve (and return)
Serena Williams has arguably the best serve in all of women's tennis. There is no denying that. But what made her serve even more impressive on Tuesday was the quality of the returner. Williams' opponent, Alison Riske, was playing an exceptional game on return and it troubled the seven-time champion throughout.
Williams won a little 60 percent of the points her first serve, which is rather poor by her standards. And yet, she found the big serve when it mattered the most. She hit a total of 19 aces in the match and dug her way out of tight situations on the back of her powerful serves (clocking 120mph more than once).
And that exactly was what got her through what was a highly competitive encounter in the end. Williams also played well on the return (just like Riske) and carried the momentum into her mixed doubles match. She hit a return winner off of 138mph serve. Need I say any more?
Alison Riske's wonderful run at the Championships might have come to end, but she has a lot to take away from the tournament. For starters, she has the game for grass. Her movement of the surface is sublime, she is formidable at the net, and hits a very flat ball.
The last of those qualities was on full display in her quarterfinal match against Williams, where Riske was matching her more fancied opponent in terms of power from the baseline.
Riske hits an unusual ball, starting from her old-school grip to her swing. The resultant shot is very flat and comes at opponents with extra pace. And that is exactly what she was troubling Serena with, especially on the backhand side.
If not outright winners, Riske's backhand groundstrokes were clinical in setting up approaches that the American executed with some confidence at the net. Her backhand will definitely remain a shot to watch out for in the future as well.
Riske would also win in the best fighting spirit category on any given day. She won all her matches here in marathon three-set encounters, making many a famous comebacks en-route.
Barbora Strycova making a slice return is a sight to behold. The Czech uses the shot beautifully to neutralise the pace of the ball coming at her and give it a complete different spin. She did the same against Johanna Konta to much success in their quarterfinal match.
The former Wimbledon quarterfinalist has come to be known for her smart style of play. She mixes up her shots well and uses the court extremely well to out maneuver her opponents. The vicious slice, that she summonmed at will (off both wings) during the clash on Centre Court makes a big part of her armoury.
Strycova has a unique two-handed grip on the backhand slice, where the non-playing hand does not come off the racquet until after the shot is hit.
It makes the shot all the more interesting and prossibly gives her just that extra bit of angle to work with using the non-playing wrist.
Whatever the technique behind the Strycova's slice backhand be, it has become quite the crowd pleaser at the All England Club over the past fortnight.
For anyone who might feel differently about this one, they might have missed the mixed doubles action on Centre Court last evening.
Coming into a highly anticipated second round match against Andy Murray and Serena Williams, Raquel Atawo would have felt like an underdog. However, once on court, she looked every bit of a star as her famed opponents.
Atawo, alongside her partner Fabrice Martin played a big part in making the late evening encounter the kind of entertainer that it was. The American was especially good on the net and held her own against the formidable Murray-Serena combine, even outshining them in the front part of the court.
A volley winner that she hit at 5-2, 15-15 in the second set might as well be the shot of the tournament so far. It was her outlandish display of grit at the net that pulled her team out of trouble on many occasions.
It is a shame that American-French duo had to come out on the losing end of a thoroughly absorbing encounter, but Atawo's showcase tennis at the net is one of the archive reels.