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To serve at love: Serena dominates

July 5, 2012 03:55 PM
Serena Williams is the favorite in the women's final to win her 14th Grand Slam.
Serena Williams has served 85 aces in six matches this year at Wimbledon.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

WIMBLEDON, England - The common wisdom around the grounds of Wimbledon these days is that the grass has slowed down, and the balls are heavier, which is why baseliners such as Novak Djokovic ad Rafael Nadal have won recent titles. But that contention largely flies in the face of the success of the Williams sisters over the past 12 years, and specifically in 2012.
This year, Serena has served 85 aces in six matches and is on her way to breaking her own Wimbledon record of total aces in the tournament.
On Thursday, she rained down 24 aces against No. 2 Victoria Azarenka in a 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory, breaking her own record of 23 that she set in the third round against Zheng Jie in a marathon three-setter. Remarkably, she set the single match record in only two sets, bettering her effort against Zheng by a British mile.
"Serena was the one player when she was serving well who I felt like I had no chance," said former Wimbledon and US Open champion Lindsay Davenport. "I was totally frozen. I never could tell where it was going. Everyone else, if they didn’t telegraph it, they had a favorite serve and it seemed like I could tell. With Serena on break points, I could never tell."
Azarenka, who just lost the No. 1 ranking to Maria Sharapova last month at Roland Garros, is considered one of the world's best return of servers and actually stood toe-to-toe with the 30- year-old Williams in hard hitting rallies. But one of the main reasons why the Belarussian owns a 1-8 record vs. Serena is because she cannot get into enough rallies when Williams is serving.
She did manage to grab a break back in the middle of the second set and grabbed a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker. But Serena responded with a booming ace and then Azarenka put an easy forehand into the net. On Serena's first match point at 6-5 she muffed a drop short-lob combination, but then the less experienced Azarenka dumped her money shot - her two-handed backhand - into the net. Serena then walked up to the center stripe and casually crushed ace No. 24 down the T for the victory.
"That was the best serving performance I've ever seen under pressure from a woman," said Tennis Channel analyst Rennae Stubbs. "She never doubted herself."
It is said that the greatest male player in Wimbledon history, seven-time champion Pete Sampras of the U.S., held serve at Wimbledon 90 percent of the time. So consider this: four-time champion Serena has held about 92 percent of the time.
"She can hit all four corners," said another former Wimbledon and US Open champion, Martina Hingis. "She can do the same movement over and over and then she just uses the wrist. The only thing you can do is pressure her. I tried to keep her out there as long as possible and keep her in long rallies so she wouldn’t be able to serve as well, but it was still hard to master because she would try and keep the rallies short." 
Seven months after she badly cut up her feet at a restaurant in Germany right after she won her last Grand Slam at 2010 Wimbledon, Williams suffered a life threatening pulmonary embolism. She came back to the tour in June 2011 and has played quite well outside of the majors, but not up to her expectations in them, having failed to win her 14th Grand Slam title in four attempts.
In her quarterfinal win over Petra Kvitova and her victory over Azarenka she was a mental rock. But against Zheng and Yaroslava Shvedova, she was shaky. The same could be said of her last three Grand Slam losses to Sam Stosur at the 2011 US Open, to Ekaterina Makarova at the 2012 Australian Open and to Virginie Razzano at 2012 Roland Garros.
"With age I felt I got more emotional," Hingis said. "In my comeback I felt like there weren't there that many chances any more. Not like when 17 and winning Wimbledon, when I thought I'd have another 10 years even I lose."
In 2008, Serena nailed 89 aces en route to the tittle. On Saturday she will face the inventive Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in the final, the world No. 3 who plays a lot like Hingis, but as the Swiss said, hasn't shown she is as mentally tough as Hingis was back when she was winning Slams simply because Radwanska hasn't won one yet.
Radwanska can stay with Serena if she can get into rallies, but her second serve is the weakest part of her game and Serena has been feasting on soft balls all tournament long. Davenport and Stubbs agree that an upset cannot be discounted, because few people thought that Stosur would take Williams out at the US Open.
However, no one really believes that Serena can be beaten if she serves with the force and accuracy that she has all tournament long. Wimbledon is the perfect locale for another amazing Grand Slam title run.
As analyst Mary Carillo said: "Grass loves her game and rewards everything she does and everything she believes in."


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