Thursday, July 2, 2009

Serena Ousts Dementieva in a Heartstopper; Venus Mauls Safina


The longest women's semi-final at Wimbledon since the Open era began in 1968 may have been the most nerve-wracking as well.

Talk about a gut check. This one was a heart and a soul check to boot.

Serena Williams, down a match point at one critical juncture, and facing all kinds of adversity throughout this tension-filled struggle, finally booked her fifth appearance in the Wimbledon finals with a 6-7 (4), 7-5, 8-6 victory over Elena Dementieva.

For Dementieva, it is the second consecutive year in which she has had her hopes dashed in the semi-finals by a Williams sister. It might have been different had it not been for the remarkable fight that Serena had to muster in order to survive this pressure cooker of a match.

After trading service breaks in the first two games, both players managed to hold serve for the rest of the 1st set. But even in the first set, this match was not without tense moments. Dementieva, who was remarkably sound from the baseline, had to fight off three break points at 3-4. While she benefited from Serena's 12 errors in the first set, it was also clear that she was getting the better of many of the baseline rallies that took place.

In the first set tiebreaker, Dementieva took a 6-3 lead, and after a double fault on her first set point, managed to serve it out.

As Serena broke in the first game of the second set, then raced out to a 3-1 lead, it was obvious that Williams was stepping up her game - she had gotten a whiff of the seriousness of her opponent, and was switching up her determination a notch as only Serena can do.

Still, Dementieva stayed the course. The Russian was bringing a new found intensity of her own to the match. She took the next three games and had two separate break point opportunities that would have given her a chance to serve for the match. A close call on the second went Serena's way via the Hawk-Eye, and it was enough to stem the tide, at least for a while.

Finally after breaking to go ahead 6-5, Serena was able to serve out the set (but only after exchanging many blows with the pesky Dementieva, who earned four break point opportunities in the game, all of them magically erased by Serena) and level the match at one set.

As the third set got underway, Dementieva continued to make life miserable for Serena. She snatched the first break of the set to go ahead 3-1 but it was just another challenge for Serena - undoubtedly the best pressure player of all the ladies on tour - and she broke back immediately.

Much to Dementieva's chagrin, what Serena lacked from the baseline she made up for with her serve.

Williams boomed 20 aces, including 8 in each of the last two sets - without this uncanny display of power serving alacrity, this match may have been Dementieva's for the taking.

Amazingly, at 4-5 in the third, it still was.

After nearly 3 hours of improbably good tennis, the Russian had her match point.

But Serena responded, as usual.

In a daring charge to the net (similar to ones that had failed earlier in the set), on the most crucial of crucial points, Serena made the volley of the tournament. A screaming cross court backhand by the Russian was intercepted with the full force of Serena's right arm. Neatly struck, that actually clipped the tape before flying into the open court, landing untouched several feet inside the baseline.

One woman's triumph, sadly, is another woman's tragedy.

Three games later it was over. Serena, once again, had found a way to will herself to victory.

Unfortunately, someone had to lose this match. As is typically the case in big matches, it sure as hell wasn't going to be Serena.

Venus Blasts Safina in Lopsided Tilt

All the suspense must have left Centre Court along with Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva.

Venus Williams had no mercy today, a she motored her way into yet another Wimbledon final, committing only 1 unforced error in her straight set lashing of Dinara Safina, 6-1, 6-0.

Safina, in getting blown off the court, has further solidified her reputation as a big match bridesmaid - she's lost three straight grand-slam finals in addition to this semi-final, and in the process has made the worlds No. 1 ranking look like a misprint.

But she wasn't facing chopped liver in the semis, as Venus has now won 34 consecutive sets on the Wimbledon grass, and only her sister Serena stands between her and her third consecutive Wimbledon title.

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