Serena Williams cheers after beating Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals of Wimbledon on Thursday to advance to Saturday's finals, where she will face Agnieszka Radwanska on Saturday for the championship.
WIMBLEDON, England — Serena Williams wins with so much more than serving, of course.
Her groundstrokes are intimidating. Her superb speed and anticipation fuel unparalleled court-covering defense. Her returns are outstanding, too.
When that serve is on-target, though, it sure is something special, quite possibly the greatest in the history of women’s tennis. Lashing a tournament-record 24 aces at up to 120 mph, and doing plenty of other things well, too, four-time Wimbledon champion Williams overpowered No. 2-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-3, 7-6 (6) Thursday to reach her seventh final at the All England Club.
“Isn’t that something?” said Williams’ father, Richard, after watching his daughter win on Centre Court. “She was really trying, you know? Maybe she was trying to impress the neighbors back home.”
On Saturday, the 30-year-old Williams will try to become the first woman at least that age to win a major tournament since Martina Navratilova, who was 33 when she won Wimbledon in 1990.
“The older I get, the better I serve, I feel,” Williams said. “I don’t know how it got better. I really don’t know. It’s not like I go home and I work on baskets and baskets of serves. Maybe it’s a natural shot for me.”
Her next opponent will be No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who reached her first Grand Slam final at age 23 by playing steady as can be during a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 8 Angelique Kerber of Germany.
“After a couple of games, I just relaxed a little bit,” said Radwanska, who made only six unforced errors, one in the second set. “I was really focusing on every point.”
Williams won 20 of her 24 service points in the first set, including 17 in a row during one stretch. She didn’t double-fault once, a real accomplishment, given how often she went for corners and lines. She finished with a 45-14 edge in total winners.
“I honestly didn’t feel great on my serve today. I really didn’t,” said Williams, who went back on court later Thursday with older sister Venus to reach the doubles semifinals.
“I thought my serve was off, and apparently — clearly — it wasn’t, so maybe I should be off a little more.”
And this performance didn’t come against a slouch: Azarenka won the Australian Open in January as part of a 26-0 start to this season, was playing in her third semifinal in the past five major tournaments, and would have returned to No. 1 in the rankings if she had managed to beat Williams.
That was not about to happen.
Not on this afternoon.
Not the way Williams is playing, five weeks after a stunning exit at the French Open, her only first-round loss in 48 Grand Slam appearances.
“I’ve been working so hard,” the sixth-seeded American said, “and I really, I really wanted it.”
She’s now one win away from a fifth Wimbledon championship, adding to those in 2002-03 and 2009-10, and 14th Grand Slam singles trophy overall — but first in two years. For her, that’s a long gap. Less than a week after her 2010 title, Williams cut her feet on glass at a restaurant, leading to a series of health problems, including being hospitalized for clots in her lungs, then the removal of a pocket of blood under the skin on her stomach.
“Serena is blessed to be here,” Dad said.
The hardest part of Radwanska’s day probably came during the postmatch news conference, which was cut short after she was overcome by a coughing fit. She appeared to be OK.
Never before even a semifinalist at any Grand Slam tournament, Radwanska is the first Polish woman to make it to a major title match since Jadwiga Jedrzejowska lost three finals in the 1930s.
“I don’t really have anything to lose, so just going to try my best,” said Radwanska, the junior champion at Wimbledon in 2005, and the French Open in 2006.
Radwanska, whose younger sister Ursula is ranked 54th, will rise to No. 1 for the first time if she wins Saturday.
“If she will play like today,” Kerber said, “I think she has a good chance.”
Williams won their two previous encounters in straight sets, but they haven’t played each other since a quarterfinal four years ago at Wimbledon.
“She’s going to get every ball back,” Williams said, “so I’ve got to look forward to that.”
It’ll be a substantial contrast in styles: Williams’ out-and-out power against Radwanska’s precision.
“I have every reason to believe she’ll win,” Richard Williams said about his daughter.
There’s no doubt who is favored, especially if Williams keeps serving the way she has been.
The 24 aces that eluded the considerable wing span of the 6-foot Azarenka broke the tournament record of 23 in a match that Williams herself set last week in a three-set, third-round victory over 25th-seeded Zheng Jie. That, in turn, eclipsed the old Wimbledon mark of 20 aces held by — guess who? — Williams.
She’s also up to 81 aces through six matches, eight shy of the tournament record she set in 2010.
“When she was little, I wanted her to throw like a boy. I bought her a football. And her serve is just throwing,” Richard Williams said. “That’s why the serve is so devastating.”
Instead of ooohing and aaahing about Williams’ aces, the crowd was fascinated at the start of her semifinal by Azarenka’s high-pitched wails on pretty much every point. It was as if none of the 15,000 or so spectators had ever seen — well, heard — her play. They giggled. They imitated the “unh-uhhhhh!” sounds. Eventually, they got used to it.
“Why would it upset me?” Azarenka told reporters. “You know, you guys make such a big deal out of it, it’s a little bit … boring.”
It took until the second set for Azarenka to get the measure of Williams’ serves, and even then, she did so only briefly.
“I don’t see anybody else serving like this on the tour,” Azarenka said.
There was a half-hour stretch in the first set when Williams didn’t lose a point on her serve. She got the only break she needed in the eighth game, closing it by sprinting to her left to dig out a ball with a defensive backhand that extended the point, then pounding a backhand passing winner.
After dropping a set for the first time this fortnight, Azarenka made one late stand. Down 15-30 while serving and trailing 3-1 in the second set, she took three consecutive games and led 4-3. She suddenly was serving better, returning better and generally turning what had been a rout into a competitive, entertaining contest.
Didn’t last too long.
Azarenka did go up 5-4 in the tiebreaker, two points from forcing a third set. But Williams hit her 23rd ace, at 109 mph, to make it 5-all. At 6-all, Azarenka badly missed an easy backhand into the net, and Williams then ended things, fittingly enough, with a 107 mph ace.
After some trying times, she is back at her best.
“I’m just happy. I’m so happy to be playing. I’m so happy to be on the court,” Williams said. “I feel like this is where I belong.”
AMERICAN SIBLINGS ON VERGE OF WIMBLEDON DOUBLES TITLES:
WIMBLEDON, England — A couple of hours after reaching her seventh Wimbledon final, Serena Williams returned to Centre Court with sister Venus to secure a spot in the semifinals of the doubles tournament.
The Williams sisters routed fellow Americans Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, 6-1, 6-1, in less than hour Thursday. Venus and Serena are playing a doubles tournament for the first time in two years and are looking for their fifth Wimbledon title together. They’ll next play Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond.
Serena beat second-ranked Victoria Azarenka in straight sets earlier Thursday to move one win away from her fifth Wimbledon title. Venus was eliminated in the first round of the singles tournament, the latest setback in her return to tennis after being diagnosed with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease.
With Venus’ situation in mind, Serena said another doubles title “would be so awesome.”
“We’re having so much fun,” Serena said. “We played really well (Thursday) actually. We’re really enjoying ourselves, so we really hope that we can win two (more) matches in doubles.”
Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci’s 25-match winning streak ended when they lost, 6-3, 6-4, to Czech duo Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in their quarterfinal match. Errani and Vinci won the French Open and were on the longest winning streak in women’s doubles since 1994.
Hlavackova and Hradecka will next play Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone.
Men’s defending champions Bob and Mike Bryan overcame Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram, 5-7, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, to reach the semifinals.
They will face Jonathan Marray of Britain and Frederik Nielsen of Denmark. The other semifinal will feature Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner against Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau, who lost to the Bryan brothers in last year’s final.
The Bryan brothers are looking for a record 12th Grand Slam title overall.
“It would be cool. But we’re not really thinking about it too much,” Mike Bryan said. “We’re just trying to win our next slam. I think we’ll have a bunch of chances to do it. It would be sweet because this is where we got the career Grand Slam in ’06. A Wimbledon title is pretty sweet but just to add that on to it would be awesome.”
MEN'S SEMIS SHAPING UP TO BE EXCITING:
WIMBLEDON, England — With “Murray Mania” gripping Britain, it’s the other men’s semifinal at Wimbledon that has many tennis fans anticipating a griping matchup on Friday afternoon.
Six-time champion Roger Federer and last year’s winner Novak Djokovic will face each other on the grass of Wimbledon for the first time — in their 27th head-to-head meeting.
“It is interesting that this is our first grass-court match. I’m looking forward to it,” said Federer, who can win a record-equaling seventh Wimbledon title after losing in the quarterfinals the past two years. “I haven’t put too much thought into it, to be quite honest, yet. I’m just happy that I’m around further than I’ve been the last couple years.”
The 30-year-old Federer already owns the most major tennis titles with 16. He completed a career Grand Slam in 2009 by winning the French Open. But his last major came more than two years ago, at the 2010 Australian Open.
A win over Djokovic on Friday, and another in Sunday’s final, would put Federer back at the top of the game as the No. 1-ranked player. Two more wins at the All England Club also would equal Pete Sampras’ seven Wimbledon titles and tie the American’s record for weeks spent at No. 1 with 286.
“I know it’s possible. I know I’m playing really well,” said Federer, who is 14-12 against Djokovic overall but 1-6 since the start of 2011. “I am aware things are going to get complicated in the next match. I better prepare well, because it’s going to be a tough match.”
Tough may be putting it mildly. The top-ranked Djokovic has won four of the last six major titles, and lost to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final last month.
Those kinds of statistics sound a lot like what Federer did year after year not so ago.
“I’m not trying to defend my title here. I’m trying to fight for it as every other player who is in last four of the men’s side,” said Djokovic, who beat Federer in the French Open semifinals last month. “So my mindset is very positive.”
After years of playing in the shadows of Federer and Nadal, it’s Djokovic that is now the man to beat. The 25-year-old Serb is 43-2 at Grand Slam matches in the past two years.
Very Federer-like numbers.
“He has a lot of respect from me, from all the players. There is no question about it,” Djokovic said of Federer. “But we are all rivals, we are all opponents. I don’t think about his history or his success or whatever too much when I’m on the court. I just want to win that match.”
The other semifinal certainly has Britain all agog. Andy Murray reached the semifinals for the fourth straight year, and with Nadal already out of the tournament, the public is expecting more from him than ever before.
“Subconsciously, I’m probably extremely stressed out right now, but I try not to feel it,” said Murray, who’s from Scotland. “Then, yeah, when the tournament’s done there’s normally a pretty big release of that. I just don’t want to be on the court for a few weeks.”
Instead of another semifinal match against Nadal, the man he lost to in 2010 and 2011, Murray will face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France — who rallied from a two-set deficit to eliminate Federer in the quarterfinals last year.
Tsonga will have a second chance to reach the Wimbledon final, but without the pressure that is regularly heaped on Murray at Wimbledon. That kind of local fervor is saved for him when he plays at the French Open — along with every other French player.
“Here for Andy is difficult because he’s alone,” Tsonga said. “I mean, in France it’s OK. We have many players and that’s fine, but here for him it’s really difficult because every eyes are on him and it’s tough for him.”
Still, “Murray Mania” won’t be slowed by Tsonga’s words or his chances to win. The fans in Britain have been waiting since 1936 — when Fred Perry won his last singles title at Wimbledon — for a homegrown male champion.
There hasn’t even been a British men’s finalist since Bunny Austin in 1938.
“Tennis in the U.K. is not really a sport that necessarily gets followed loads for the rest of the year, but everyone gets into it when Wimbledon comes round because they understand how big a competition it is,” Murray said. “The support that I’ve had over the last sort of five, six years here has been great.
“I’m trying my best to win the tournament for myself, obviously, but also for everybody else.”