BERLIN - 19-year-old Croatian Karolina Sprem, one of the most touted young players on the WTA Tour, lived up to her promise this past week by reaching the semifinals at a Tier I event for the first time in her career, nearly outplaying Venus Williams, who was riding a 14-match winning streak, for a place in the final.
Sprem's successful week in Germany also landed her this week's WTATour.com Player of the Week honors.
Beginning the week with a routine 64 62 win over German wild card Anna-Lena Groenefeld, Sprem then survived a tough second set challenge from 42nd-ranked American Meghann Shaughnessy, winning 62 76, for a round of 16 match-up with top-seeded Kim Clijsters of Belgium. Citing a left-wrist injury, Clijsters withdrew from the tournament, landing Sprem a spot in the quarterfinals against Australian Open semifinalist Fabiola Zuluaga.
Although she had lost their only previous meeting, Sprem confidently dismantled her 23rd-ranked Columbian opponent 63 63, moving into the semifinals and getting an opportunity to play against arguably the hottest player on the tour at the moment, third-seeded American Venus Williams.
Sprem came onto the court poised and ready to play her best tennis, and it showed, as Williams witnessed, along with the rest of the centre court crowd, a stunning array of winners and controlled aggression from the Croatian. Sprem won the first four games of the match and held on to take the first set 62. Although Williams regrouped, cut down on her errors and took advantage of a lapse in focus from her younger opponent to take the second set 63, Sprem started the deciding set right where she left off in the first set, breaking the Williams serve and racing out to a 3-0 lead.
In a closely contested final set, Williams managed to play her way back and take the match 64, fighting off an ankle injury as well as a brave and fearless opponent. Though Sprem had ten more unforced errors than Williams, she had twice as many winners.
"I think she just came out there swinging," said Williams. "She started to hit winners, she was hitting and doing well... I guess it evened out in the end."
Describing herself as a disciplined person, Sprem's focus and persistence wavered as she became more and more tired after her exciting run and being pushed to the limits by Williams.
"At 3-0 I felt my legs start to get tired," she said. "It was a great experience for me because Venus is definitely one of the best players out there."
Though it is her first semifinal of a Tier I event, it is not the first time that Sprem has made it deep into a Tier I draw. Just over a month ago, she fought her way through to the quarterfinals of the NASDAQ-100 in Miami, with a win over Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova along the way before being stopped in straight sets by Eleni Daniilidou of Greece.
Beginning the year ranked 59th in the world, her solid performances so far this season propelled her to begin the German Open ranked 28th. Her strong performance in Berlin will move Sprem up to 25th on Monday's WTA Tour Rankings.