Oh Those Bad Bounces
June 30, 2009 -- English tennis fans are in heaven this fortnight. Local retailers are about out of cool tops and polo shirts, wide-brimmed hats and fans, the temperatures have been so high. Audiences might think they're at the beach, when they take their seats and peer out on the courts. Baselines have worn thin by footsteps, split steps, and the occasional sprint toward the net. Balls are bouncing every which way today, if they land deep. The eight quarterfinalists had to keep their eye on the ball, keep their feet light or they were forced to lunge and lurch looking like spastic dancers.
Bad bounces aside at Wimbledon Beach, there was a marked difference in the level of play between the eight women today.
While Dinara Safina wracked up 15 double faults in three sets, Venus Williams -- her semifinal opponent -- had one. Miss Safina scored 23 winners and 38 unforced errors while Miss Venus Williams had 29 winners to 18 unforced errors. Safina had zero aces; Venus had 5.
Stats are tricky. Perspective and relationships between the numbers have to be in some context or they appear absolute, which they are not by any measure. However, it's troubling to realize that the world's number one player -- Dinara Safina -- is in the semifinal at Wimbledon when her performance today was pretty minimal. Had Sabine Lisicki kept her unforced errors a bit lower. Had her body held up a bit better. Well, those are scenarios based in fiction.
Venus had finished off the first set against Agnieszka Radwanska before Safina and Sabine Lisicki had played three games of their match. Does that mean anything? You bet. Aggression. Confidence. Strategy. And a huge drive to finish the match. That's Venus Williams.
Dinara Safina can hit the fuzz off of a tennis ball; and, she pulled off the 'W' today, which is the goal. However, Venus will demolish her in the semis if she can't get her service game together. Venus will tee-off on second serves. She won't mess around with long rallies. If an opening appears, she'll take advantage of it immediately.
All that said, Dinara Safina defeated Venus at Rome this year in the semifinals... their last match. Before that, Safina had never taken a set off the elder Williams. After that, Safina's confidence shot up. But this is grass. And Centre Court belongs to Venus.
Serena Williams appeared on court today ready to smack the living daylights out of every ball, and run down any and every ball. Her teeth were positioned in grind mode, like her mind. Nothing and no one was going to spoil her party, not even the talents of Victoria Azarenka who put up a mighty fight.
Early in the second set, Azarenka had her first break chance of the match. Serena served a couple dismal points. Her first service percentage at that moment was under 50% while Azarenka's was just under 90%. What did the younger Williams sister do? She hit two aces and one unreturnable serve to about-face her direction and momentum, winning the game.
Later in the same set, she broke Azarenka to go up 5/3. She didn't let the opportunity slip away. She closed the match with an ace. Time on court: 73 minutes.
Serena Williams hit 9 aces today, not one double fault, plus 26 winners compared to 7 unforced errors. Her semifinal opponent Elena Dementieva came up with 9 double faults in a two set win over Francesca Schiavone. Once the ball was in play, though, Dementieva's ground game lifted her percentage of points won on first serves to a lofty 82%. And, she converted five of six break points -- one of the most revealing stats of a match. Aggression. Confidence. Risk Taker.
Serena Williams has a winning record against Dementieva. The #4 seed Dementieva has won the last four out of five matches they have played, though. Dementieva isn't afraid of pace and can change the direction of the ball better than anyone. Her fitness level is tops, too. She will not fold under the baking sun of Wimbledon Beach. And neither will her semifinal opponent Serena.
This match is a toss up, but you have to put your eggs in the Williams' basket simply because this is a Grand Slam. These are the titles Serena covets.
Sabine Lisicki didn't play a clean match. Her unforced errors got out of hand and her body tired. But, this 19-year-old is for keeps, as is Azarenka. They have the heart and the skill to be top-flight players. At some time, the Williams sisters will retire and players won't have to go through them to get to the finals at Grand Slams. For right now, the case is closed. Venus and Serena Williams remain the gatekeepers at the Wimbledon.
Earlier Columns from this Event:
June 29, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: The Wise and Experienced - Roof or No Roof
June 28, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Sunday... A Day of Rest
June 27, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Qualifier Oudin Ousts J. J., Lisicki Downs Kuznetsova
June 26, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: As The Draw Turns
June 25, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Hewitt Takes Charge as Murray Rolls
June 24, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Young and Old Compete at Wimbledon
June 23, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Sunny Wimbledon
June 22, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Wimbledon... The Perfect Grand Slam