Wimbledon: It’s advantage Williams as women prepare for semi-final showdowns
FOR anyone seeking a hint about the likely outcome of this year’s women’s singles title, here’s a helpful statistic. Serena Williams’s cumulative head-to-head record against her remaining three rivals is 10-1.
True, she has only played – and beaten – Angelique Kerber once. And her record against No 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who meets Kerber in the semi-finals today, is just 2-0. But while those stats may be less than conclusive, the American’s record against Victoria Azarenka, her opponent this afternoon, is an altogether more compelling 7-1. And Azarenka, the No 2 seed and a former world No 1, is reckoned to be the toughest remaining obstacle to Williams’ quest for a fifth Wimbledon crown.
There were two other serious rivals to Williams in this tournament, both of them former champions, and both now out. Maria Sharapova, the 2004 winner, was defeated in the fourth round by Sabine Lisicki, who then lost in the quarter-finals to her fellow-German Kerber. And defending champion Petra Kvitova, who never quite showed the form which gave her the title 12 months ago, was knocked out by Williams herself in the last round.
With all due respect to Azarenka, Williams’s most difficult opponent now will probably be herself. That has been the way for much of her career, since she realised that, barring the odd intervention from elder sister Venus, she could win majors almost at will.
The tally is 13 now, and would have been quite a few more had she not lost focus for months at a time. A succession of injuries has not helped either, particularly the debilitating run she suffered over the winter of 2010-11,which began with a cut foot and ended with a pulmonary embolism.
However, now she is fit again, adopting the right attitude is more than half the battle. She was not quite there in the first week, and had to dig deep to see off Jie Zheng in the third round, winning the deciding set 9-7.
Another demanding three-setter followed against Yaroslava Shvedova, and then came Kvitova. Never mind that the Czech had not been playing at her best either, Williams’ long-time coach, her father Richard, decided that his daughter needed a word of advice. The trouble was, he reckoned she might be too headstrong to listen to him, so he asked Venus to deliver the message instead.
“I went and had Venus talk to her, because Venus can get [through] to Serena better than anyone in the world,” Richard explained after the 6-3, 7-5 win over Kvitova. “So I told Venus: ‘I’m not going to talk to her. You talk to her.’
“So Venus went and talked to her. When the match was over, I told her: ‘Venus: Good coaching. Good coaching.’ I wanted Serena to move her feet a little bit more and to not concentrate on what the girl’s doing, but concentrate exactly on what she wished to do, and that was the only message,” he added. In other words, as long as she focused on her own game keenly enough, she would win.
That should also be the case against Azarenka, even though the Belarussian – at 22 the younger woman by eight years – is clearly still improving. She won her first Grand Slam title in Australia at the start of the year, and is through to the last four here for the second successive year, having fallen to Kvitova 12 months ago. But Azarenka’s sole victory so far against Williams was in Miami all of three years ago, since when she has lost five encounters in a row. That includes the only time the pair have previously met here, also in 2009.
The other match is far closer to call. Radwanska is the slight favourite because of her higher ranking – Kerber is seeded five places below her at No 8 – but the German could just have enough fight to see her through. It was that quality which helped her prevail over Lisicki.
The key is how both women settle in what is unknown territory for them. Kerber is making her fifth appearance here: she lost in the first round three times, and got no further than the third in 2010. Radwanska is competing for the seventh time, and her best previous result was getting to the last eight four years ago.
So there will be at least one first-time finalist on Saturday, and Azarenka would make it two. But experience usually counts as long as the player who has it is switched-on enough to use it, and after a slow-burning start Williams’ game is now approaching maximum illumination.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: East
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east