Friday, July 3, 2009


Venus destroys Safina in 51 minutes

A brilliant performance by the five-times champion Venus Williams finally exposed the grasscourt weakness of Dinara Safina today. Such is Williams’ utter dominance on this surface that the world number one went into the match as the clear underdog, and Venus made it horribly clear why.

Statistically, this was her easiest match of the tournament so far, as she swept aside Safina 6-1, 6-0 in 51 minutes to set up an all-Williams final against her younger sister Serena.

Safina, who had never even reached the second week of Wimbledon before, much less the semi-final, had a miserable time of it in the opening set. For one thing, if she was hoping the crowd would get behind her, she was faced with a Centre Court that was perhaps one tenth full. Understandably, there had been something of an exodus after the marathon previous semi-final.

But a greater concern for 23-year-old Safina was that the very first serve she faced in the match was a statement of intent by Williams, timed at 122mph. The game followed much the same pattern, with Venus brushing her aside to love. But much worse, she repeated the love scoreline when Safina came to serve. The Russian made a contribution with her 32nd double fault of the tournament, and Venus finished the job with a forehand pass.

In fact, 29-year-old Williams won the opening nine points of the match without reply, the last being a serve of 124mph to match the fastest serve of the tournament so far – which naturally belonged to her in any case.

Quite unexpectedly, a couple of Williams errors and a powerful Safina forehand brought up an opportunity to break back. But Safina let the chance pass with a forehand that was far too deep – although really she had no option but to go for the lines with every shot, which obviously left her far more exposed to the likelihood of error.

It seemed possible she would get on the scoreboard with her next service game, but from 40-15 it slipped through her hands and she was 0-4. Four points later it was 0-5 when Venus delivered her third love game of the match. Safina was berating herself, hammering the soles of her shoes with her racket. She put together a reasonable sequence finally to make it 1-5, but another huge serve brought up two set points for Venus, and she wasted no time in converting one. The set had taken her 27 minutes, with 10 winners to just one unforced error. It was stunning stuff.

If the first set was torture for Safina, the second was actually worse. It must have been little comfort that the overwhelming onslaught cannot have come as any huge surprise, so greatly were the odds stacked in Williams’ favour on this surface. But all tournament Safina has looked unconvincing, and it never seemed likely that she would overturn her unwanted statistic of being the world number one without having won a Grand Slam title.

Worse, if anything Williams was taking the assault up a notch. She was not only serving marvellously but producing formidable returns, playing consistently as if the heavy strapping on her left knee was not hindering her in the slightest. At times the ball was hit so hard that Safina simply could not get out of the way in time to produce any useful reply.

Safina shouted at herself to improve, but no progress materialised. She was 0-4 down in no time, with Venus in total control. Safina had no answer, and served another double fault to make it 0-5. The crowd had now returned to the Centre Court, but there was little left to see, and what there was made uncomfortable viewing, such was Safina’s misery. Williams made just one unforced error throughout the match to the Russian’s 16.

Rarely can a world number one have been so embarrassed. It was the eighth Wimbledon semi-final of her career for Venus, and her eighth win. She has now won 34 successive sets at Wimbledon. It will be an all-American celebration in the women’s final on Independence Day.

Serena battles to win classic semi

Saving a match point along the way, Serena Williams battled through to the women's singles final by defeating Russia's Elena Dementieva 6-7 7-5 8-6. At two hours 49 minutes it was the longest women's semi-final at Wimbledon in the era of Open tennis. It was also, by some distance, the finest women's match at the 2009 Championships so far.

Dementieva, the Olympic champion, went into the match a clear underdog, despite a superior recent record against the American. But her beefed-up serve, her relentlessly accurate groundstrokes and her fighting spirit extended Williams to the very limit. The difference between winning and the exit door was that Dementieva was found wanting at the key moments and on key points, plus the fact that luck, the net cord and the Hawk-Eye calling system were also generally in Serena's corner.

Before the match Serena's father and coach, Richard Williams, had opined "Serena is hitting like a man", and his daughter proceeded to fulfil that comment with her every shot, her every serve and her astonishing stamina under pressure.

The Russian applied pressure that Serena has certainly not seen in this tournament, or indeed for a long while. But, champion that she is, the response was there in the end, four games after she had fought off that match point with one of her more outrageous slices of good fortune, a forehand volley winner off the top of the net.

Expectations of another straight-sets victory suffered an immediate setback when she was broken in the very first game, despite opening proceedings with the first of her 20 aces. The response, a capture of the Russian's serve, was instantaneous, but the 4th seed Dementieva demonstrated, in a doggedly contested first set lasting 50 minutes, that she is certainly no longer intimidated by facing a power hitter. Her serve has improved immeasurably since her semi-final appearance here last year, but the second serve remains a liability at such a level and was frequently punished.

Dementieva fought off three break points at 3-4 and, encouraged by the occasional wild Williams error, took the set into a tiebreak, where more Serena mistakes offered Dementieva three set points. She fluffed the first with a double fault before Williams obliged by walloping a forehand service return wide.

The Williams counter-attack was immediate. She broke in the opening game of the second set and appeared comfortably in command until inexplicably dropping serve to love in the sixth game and slid into peril of defeat in straight sets when she faced two break points which would have given the Russian a 5-3 lead and left her serving for the match.

Good luck came Serena's way on the second of these when the Hawk-Eye machine called one of her shots in by a millimetre. With 10 Grand Slams already to her name, Serena did not need any more warnings. She broke , luckily once more, to lead 6-5 when a Dementieva net cord was ruled by Hawk-Eye to have dropped just out and even though she served out to level the match it was still only after Dementieva had failed to cash in on four more break points.

If what had gone before was thrilling, the final set produced breathtaking tennis. Dementieva broke to lead 3-1, was pulled back at once to 3-2 and though Williams continued to thunder down the aces, Dementieva had her huge opportunity with that match point at 5-5.

The moment was snatched away from her and the ruthless Williams guaranteed that there would be no more. The American broke to lead 7-6, reached match point with a forehand winner and screeched in jubilation on the next point as a Russian backhand landed long.

After a tournament of largely quickfire wins for the leading ladies, this was a match which will go into the record books. The only previous women’s singles semi-final to have stretched past two-and-a-half hours was the 1994 battle between Conchita Martinez and Lori McNeil. But today, two competitors went toe-to-toe for 169 absorbing minutes, beating that previous mark by 14 minutes.

The Centre Court's standing ovation for both women was fully merited.

Williams sisters give tennis masterclass

Thursday, 2 July 2009
Written by Alix Ramsay

We seem to have been here before: another Wimbledon final, another Williams family showdown. For the second year running and the fifth time in all, Venus and Serena will contest the ladies’ final on Saturday.

The sisters are as close as sisters can be and yet they appear, in many ways, to be polar opposites. Venus is tall and rangy, a physique that has helped her become the best grass court player of her generation, while Serena is shorter, more muscular and more obviously aggressive in her approach to the pursuit of Grand Slam titles. Not that Venus is a shrinking violet on the court – far from it – it is just that she tends to keep her thoughts and her emotions to herself.

The two sisters also took vastly differing routes to their Saturday appointment. Serena played the best match of the Ladies’ Championship so far – and the longest recorded for a semi-final here – by beating Elena Dementieva 6-7, 7-5, 8-6 while Venus took only 51 minutes to beat Dinara Safina 6-1, 6-0.

The sisters were, however, united in one thing: they both put on a masterclass in the art of being a champion.

For Serena, it was a case of passion and courage being just enough to bring her through the toughest of tests. Dementieva ran her ragged, she harassed and harried the world number two and she proved herself to be a fighter every bit as determined as Serena. And Serena still won. Just. But that is what champions do.

For Dementieva, the fact that she was able to match Serena for nearly three hours was some comfort while the fact that she had served well – never one of her strengths in the past – and kept pace with the raw power of her rival was a positive sign. “For sure I feel disappointed but it was a very close match,” Dementieva said. “But I think the way I was playing is more important than the result.”

Safina was not able to pick many positive bones out of her thrashing at the hands of Venus. The world number one, who is still desperately looking for her first Grand Slam title, was absolutely walloped and she knew it. “I think she gave me a pretty good lesson today,” Safina said.

So that left Venus and Serena to go home to the house they are sharing in Wimbledon and to try to plan their respective campaigns for Saturday. To the outsider observer, it sounds like an impossible task – most sisters can fall out over the smallest things and an illicitly borrowed bottle of shampoo can cause a major family argument.

How on earth can two sisters ponder playing each other for the biggest prize in the sport? Simple: spend 12 years of your life playing your sister in tournaments around the world and just get used to it. It does, apparently get a little easier with time.

“It's different [now to when we were young] because we're different players,” Venus said. “We both play such a similar game. I mean, we had the same teacher. But what I can tell you the same is the respect that we have for each other on and off the court is the same.”

Yes, we have been here before but, rest assured, Venus and Serena know how it is done. Last year’s final was one of their most competitive and Venus won. This year, Serena wants revenge. Tune in on Saturday for episode 21 of the Venus and Serena show.


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