Friday, July 6, 2012

Global 2012: 24 aces help Serena Williams reach Wimbledon final

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05:  Serena Williams of...LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: Serena Williams of the USA returns a shot during her Ladies' Singles semi final match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on day ten of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 5, 2012 in London, England. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
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.

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