Wimbledon: Serena Williams in form to serve up fifth title
The serve has it; Serena Williams still has it. The combination of the two factors will make tomorrow's women's singles final a formidable task for Agnieszka Radwanska from Krakow, who has the incentive as Poland's first finalist here since 1937, of becoming No 1 in the world by winning it.
In yesterday's semi-final victory, Williams sent a record 24 aces fizzing past Victoria Azarenka of Belarus – who managed one – to total 85 for the tournament and emphasise what a weapon is still at her disposal. Earlier, Radwanska, appearing in the last four of a Grand Slam event for the first time, saw off her friend Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-3, 6-4 in an absorbing match that offered a preview of how the final is likely to shape up: Radwanska slighter and less powerful, but with significant court-craft and a range of shots. Yesterday, that was too much for Kerber, but tomorrow she must stand up to her opponent's serve in a manner that nobody else has done in this tournament.
Williams has won their previous two meetings without dropping a set. After a wretched 2011 with injuries, she is coming on strong again and will be seeking a fifth Wimbledon singles title. Furthermore, there is something to admire about a player who has earned £23m in winnings alone and is still so desperate to take every point in every match. At 30, she appears as fit as any of her younger rivals, showing little sign of strain despite having played two winning doubles matches with her sister the previous day. Little more than two hours after securing a place in the final she was back on court with Venus, winning through to the semi-final of the doubles.
At times on Centre Court, where Azarenka's high-pitched shrieking was greeted with widespread laughter and even an imitation by one spectator, the Belarusian's worst mistake in a 6-3, 7-6 defeat seemed to be inadvertently provoking her distinguished opponent with a youthful flourish. The second set was full of such moments, like when a fine cross-court winner and then taking the Williams serve to deuce for the first time were each met with an ace. When Azarenka had the temerity to do the same thing two games later, the response comprised two successive aces.
A break down at that stage, Azarenka drew level to her credit, breaking back thanks to a Williams mishit off the frame. Growing more confident, she reached the tie-break and saved a match point when Williams lobbed too long but was finally beaten, appropriately, with yet another ace.
"I've been working so hard," said Williams – another of her virtues. "Victoria is a great player and I got a little tight in the second set, looking too far into the future." Of Radwanska, she said generously: "She's doing unbelievable, she'll get every shot back." That seems unlikely in the extreme.
The Pole nevertheless has the opportunity to achieve both of her ambitions in one, by becoming world No 1 and winning a Grand Slam title. Against Kerber, the left-hander who has risen 84 places to No 8 since the start of the US Open last summer, she won a vast majority of the longer rallies and was strong on her first serve, if weak on the second. Miscuing a drop-shot in the third game caused her to drop serve but from 3-1 down she ran through five games in a row for the first set.
Kerber, who had been given a pep-talk by her compatriot Steffi Graf, stopped the rot by taking the first game of the second set to love. Striking the ball harder, she hit more winners than Radwanska but also committed more unforced errors and suffered the only break of that set to go 3-2 down after a wild backhand.
At 4-5, Kerber conceded a match point by going wide on her forehand and lost it when netting a return. "[Radwanska] played better today," she conceded. "My plan was playing aggressive tennis and making the points but she moves very well and makes not many mistakes so it was really tough. She's played a very good tournament and if she will play like today, I think she has a good chance [in the final]."
Radwanska was not keen to dwell on those chances but said: "I played very good today. I had a tough quarter-final and it was good to have a day off because it is always tough against Angie. This is what I dreamed of as a kid, to play the final of a Grand Slam so these have been the best two weeks of my career.
"For sure this tournament is already one big part of tennis history in Poland and I'm happy to be part of that."
The worst news for her is that Williams "honestly didn't feel great on my serve today". Woe betide Radwanska if she does tomorrow afternoon.
Women's final: Williams v Radwanska
The two previous meetings:
1 July 2008 Wimbledon QF (grass)
Williams eases into the semi-finals with a 6-4, 6-0 victory over the Pole. The second set lasts just 19 minutes as Williams blows away her 19-year-old opponent. The American is eventually defeated in the final in straight sets by her sister, Venus.
8 May 2008 German Open 3R (clay)
The first meeting between the two players sees Radwanska swept aside 6-3, 6-1 in the third round in Berlin. Williams then went on to lose to the tournament winner, Dinara Safina, in three sets in the next round.
Route to the final
TV Tomorrow, 1.30pm, BBC 1.
Odds Williams 1-6, Radwanska 4-1
SW19 in numbers
1 Radwanska is Poland's first Grand Slam finalist of the Open Era.
92 Kerber's world ranking before the 2011 US Open – she made the semis.
13 Grand Slam titles won by Williams.
85 Aces by Serena Williams at Wimbledon this year.