Wimbledon: Serena Williams’ self-belief powers her closer to fifth title
FOR much of the last decade, the question which dominated debate about the women’s singles was: can anyone prevent a Williams family final? That quickly became a dead issue in this year’s championships after Venus was knocked out in the first round, but instead we now have a related query: can anyone prevent Serena from winning a fifth title?
At the start of the tournament the younger Williams sister, seeded only sixth, appeared to have a lot of obstacles in her way. She is not the formidable force she once was, and there were a fair few players in the draw who looked capable of getting the better of her.
But one by one those obstacles have fallen. The 30-year-old American is improving by the match, and her main rivals are falling by the round. The defeat of Maria Sharapova by Sabine Lisicki on Monday removed the woman who has done most to combat the Williamses’ stranglehold on the women’s game in recent times, and meant just one former champion besides Serena herself was left in the competition.
That was defending champion Petra Kvitova, and yesterday Williams disposed of the Czech, winning 6-3, 7-5 in a Centre Court battle which was more straightforward than expected. Williams is known for her power, but the 22-year-old Kvitova, who at 6ft stands three inches taller, is not exactly a powder puff herself. And since the pair’s two previous meetings – at the Australian Open and here, both in 2010 and both won by the older woman – Kvitova has made a massive improvement in her game. But when it came to the crunch, the four-time former champion had too much power and self-belief. Kvitova had one real chance to get back into the match, when she was on the verge of clinching the second set, but when that opportunity went a-begging there was little more she could do.
Williams thus became the first woman through to the last four, and was back at her temporary home and resting up some time before any of the other quarter-finals was decided. And she was unlikely, in any case, to be sitting around anxiously waiting to find out if No 2 seed Victoria Azarenka or the unseeded Tamira Paszek would be her opponent in tomorrow’s semi-finals, or to discover which two contenders would make it through from the other half of the draw.
Because Serena has never had to worry too much about rivals from outside her immediate family. Venus has been her most dangerous external foe, but a lot of the time she has been her own greatest rival. When she is fit and applies herself, she has the beating of everyone – and she certainly looks like she is fit and applying herself this fortnight. She was focused from the start against Kvitova, putting pressure on the Czech from the off. “That’s just my game pretty much,” she said – but then qualified that by saying at least it was her game when she was on top form.
“I hadn’t been doing that so much in the past, so for me it was definitely important to get out there and just be the best that I could be.”
As she did not know who she would meet in the next round, she was asked to talk about both of her potential opponents. Polite and complimentary about both, she nonetheless gave the impression that it really did not matter who she would play. “She’s playing unbelievable,” she said of Azarenka.
“She’s played so well this year. You know, it’s going to be another match where I have absolutely nothing to lose. I can just go out there and enjoy myself and have fun.”
Turning to Paszek, she praised the Austrian’s ability to punch above her weight against the top seeds. “She plays really well on grass. This is the second time she’s had a good result here. She’s obviously extremely serious about doing the best that she can.”
That last sentence would apply equally to Kvitova now, but by her own admission she found it hard to motivate herself after winning Wimbledon last year. She suffered a prolonged slump in form last autumn, picked up again towards the end of 2011 when she won the season-ending Tournament of Champions, but this year has struggled to do her talent justice.
That continued to be the case in the opening round here, but she can take some comfort from the fact that latterly she has proved that she has the ability to add to that first Grand Slam title she won last year, when she defeated Sharapova in a memorable final.
“For me it was a difficult first round when I went to Centre Court, because it was a really big match to open the tournament,” Kvitova said. “That was tough for me to be strong mentally, because I played badly before. Then I think [every match] after the first round was good and I was more relaxed. I didn’t play badly [against Williams]. She just served very well.”
Kvitova was then asked if she expected Williams to become the champion again on Saturday. “I think so,” she said. She’s not the only one.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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