LONDON, July 1 - Unlike Roger Federer the previous day, Serena Williams proved shock-proof on Wimbledon’s Centre Court on Thursday as she reached the women’s singles final for the sixth time.
Her 7-6 6-2 win looked as predictable as Federer’s defeat on Wednesday was shocking, but the American slugger was given an early fright by 20-year-old Petra Kvitova before rolling through to Saturday’s showpiece where she will play Vera Zvonareva.
The only person inside the All England Club who seemed surprised that she was in the final again was Serena herself.
“I didn’t expect to get this far in the tournament the way I was playing at the start,” the world number one said after reaching the final without conceding a set, as she did last year.
Home hope Andy Murray’s impending men’s semi-final showdown with Rafael Nadal hogged the back pages and the chatter around the grounds on Thursday, and there was a distinctly detached atmosphere on Centre Court as Russian Zvonareva walked out to begin the day’s action against the 82nd-ranked Tsvetana Pironkova.
A lively affair ensued with Zvonareva ending the Bulgarian’s dream run with a 3-6 6-3 6-2 win to reach her first grand slam final at the 30th time of asking.
Pironkova got the use of a swanky South Kensington apartment, courtesy of the Bulgarian Embassy, after only booking a hotel room for a short stay.
The endearing 22-year-old could well hire it again next year after returning to Plovdiv 250,000 pounds richer and with her reputation enhanced after Tuesday’s startling defeat of five-times champion Venus Williams.
That win would have remained the most surprising result of an unpredictable fortnight had it not been for grasscourt king Federer’s quarter-final pounding by the mighty forehand of Czech Tomas Berdych on Wednesday.
For 45 minutes against a hesitant Zvonareva on a blustery Centre Court the skilful Pironkova was on collision course with Serena as she won her 11th consecutive set here but from 2-2 in the second her game evaporated.
Zvonareva, who had tasted a grand slam semi-final defeat at the Australian Open last year, grew in confidence and her greater experience paid off as she swept to victory.
“Not even close. One set is like an eternity,” Pironkova told reporters after going tantalisingly close to becoming the first unseeded woman to reach a Wimbledon final.
Zvonareva, 25, becomes only the third Russian woman to reach the final of the grasscourt slam and the first since Maria Sharapova pulled the rug from beneath the feet of Serena in 2004. What chance a repeat?
“I always believe in myself, I don’t care about what everyone says,” Zvonareva, who studies international economic relations in Moscow, told reporters.
“I know if I play my best tennis I can beat anyone on the other side of the net.”
She has already got the better of Serena (and Venus) once this week alongside doubles partner Elena Vesnina but facing the fury of the best serve in women’s tennis in her first grand slam singles final will be an altogether more demanding challenge.
Serena was not at her best against Kvitova on Thursday and when she trailed 4-2 in the opening set after dropping serve in the fifth game of a match full of heavy baseline artillery a buzz spread around Centre Court.
The American turned up the power — and the noise levels — to get back on level terms and despite squandering two sets points at 6-3 in the tiebreak she never relinquished control despite the plucky efforts of her Czech opponent.
A moderate seven aces flew off the Williams racket, extending her record tally to 80 for the tournament.
Kvitova’s audacity in pocketing the American’s delivery, rated as the most destructive shot in the women’s game, had the unfortunate effect of firing up Williams who started the match rather awkwardly.
“I think I should have held. I had a chance. I screwed it up myself,” Williams said. “But I try not to worry too much out there. It’s not the time.”