Serena Williams is looking for her fifth Wimbledon title.
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Petra Kvitova will have to get past Serena Williams to defend her Wimbledon title.
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By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
WIMBLEDON, England - Serena Williams has fought through plenty of tough spots in her 13 appearances at Wimbledon, but in her four title runs she has never had to scratch through two back-to-back high wire matches before the quarterfinals.
But every year is a new one and in 2012, the 30-year-old American backed up her 6-7 (5), 6-2, 9-7 victory over Zheng Jie in the third round, which lasted two and half hours, with a 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 win over Yaroslava Shvedova, which lasted one hour and 54 minutes.
Due to the fact that the 13 time Grand Slam champion has been the best player of her generation and has been extremely dominant at times at Wimbledon, it has been hard to anticipate that she will struggle before the final days of the tournament.
But the tour has improved to the point where when she isn't serving and returning huge it is more difficult for her to quickly put opponents away. But on the day when No. 1 Maria Sharapova and four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters were both sent packing, Serena did not want to hear that her close calls were a result of increased tour depth.
"Yeah, I guess," she said. "I felt, like my opponent played really good today. [But] I definitely felt like I let her back into the match."
Serena has won the Wimbledon title in 2002, 2003, 2009, and 2010. She took the 2002 and 2010 titles without dropping a set, but in 2003 she needed to go to three sets to repel one of her great rivals, fellow American Jennifer Capriati, in the quarters, and in 2010 she fought off a match point in the semis and edged Russian Elena Dementieva 6-7(4), 7-5, 8-6.
But she has never had to put together two highly dramatic wins before the final eight were decided and now she'll face defending champion Petra Kvitova on Tuesday and the tennis world knows that won’t be easy.
"I just felt like today I was sluggish out there, just pulling myself together mentally," Serena said, even though she finished the match with 35 winners and13 unforced errors. "But I feel like I can do a lot better, which is very comforting, because if this is my best I'm in trouble."
Perhaps the reason why Serena’s play has been so spotty is because she still isn’t over her first round loss at Roland Garros to Virginie Razzano, when she admittedly choked a set and a 5-2 lead in the tiebreaker in a three-set loss. Serena rarely takes her foot off the accelerator, but every player's career go through ebbs and flows and hers is caught in a current of self doubt that's she is trying to paddle out of.
"I think it has spill over effect, and I need to get over that," she said. "I was really upset and I've just got to move on. So that's what I'm working on."
Serena does enjoy the battle and while she would have rather had easier matches, being tested by two very good players before what surely will be a rough and tumble contest against Kvitova isn’t the worst thing that could have happened to her. She is fit enough to have decided to play doubles with her sister Venus at 2012 Wimbledon, the first time they have teed up in two years. So whether Zheng made her bend down an inch from the ground to pick up low sling shots, or she had to scoop an impossible backhand lob over the athletic Shvedova's head to give herself a match point in the final game when her legs were a bit sore does not play against her: the more tight situations she gets out of, the more she feels she can gut out another victory.
"It doesn't add strain at all," she said." As long as I get the 'W' I'm fine, I'm great. I don't feel mental strain. If anything, I feel tougher. And it's good."
Kvtiova is feeling good too, as she had to fight tooth and nail to scrape past Francesca Schiavone 4 6, 7 5, 6 1. The tall lefthander has had an up and down year due to illness and injury, but she has played fairly well at the majors, reaching the semifinals of both the Australian Open and Roland Garros, where she fell to Sharapova., She is just as strong as Serena is and hits just as hard, but has yet to prove herself as mentally tough. But she leapt over a big hurdle against the Italilan on a wet and windy day and did not let down when she wasn't at her best.
"From the beginning of the match I didn't had a lot of break [chances] and I didn't have a very nice feelings," the 22-year-old said. "Really it was not funny for me in that moment. I feel so bad. That's why probably I played so bad. .. The last matches I played so well and so quick, and today it's about the fight. I'm so happy that I showed that. It's important."
Serena is 2-0 against the Czech, having crushed her in their first meeting at the 2010 Australian Open and having beaten her in a tight two set contest in the 2010 Wimbledon semis. Kvitova has tremendous respect for Williams, but she believes that when they walk on court on Tuesday for their quarterfinal, she will be in there with a shot in the tournament she calls, "The Wimbledon."
"I think it will be huge match for both of us, and I'm looking forward to play against her," Kvitova said. "Looking forward to have a challenge. She is a great champion. She won many times here. [But] I think it will be a really different match to compare to years ago."
Serena has served well throughout the tournament, which has kept in her last two matches. But she hasn't returned that well and her ground game has been sporadic. She says that it's time for her to force herself past her loss in Paris whether she's over it or not.
She's capable of winning a fifth title, but a giant obstacle in the defending champion stands in her way, and she knows it.
"She's obviously a great grass court player as well as I am," Serena said. "I'll be ready."