- Wimbledon, Day 11
Serena serves up a masterclass
These days, it's almost too easy to take Serena Williams for granted.
After flicking aside Victoria Azarenka 6-3 7-6(6) on Thursday, she finds herself in a seventh final here at the All England Club. And with the way she flogged Azarenka, there won't be many backers for her next opponent, Agnieszka Radwanska, a 6-3 6-4 winner over Angelique Kerber.
Serena served up Azarenka on a plate, striking 24 aces.
The last one, down the middle in the ad court, gave her one more than her previous Wimbledon record total and career high. She now has a staggering 85 aces in six games; her fastest, at 120 mph, was 15 mph faster than Azarenka's best.
But look a little closer and you will see the sweat.
"This is the most important tournament that Serena would ever win," her father Richard told a small group of reporters after the match. "Even if she could win it next year, this one here would be the most important because Serena didn't think she'd ever play tennis again.
"She told me so."
It's been two years since Serena won a major, right here at Wimbledon. She's been 0-for-7 since, although she missed three Grand Slams because of some horrific health issues.
Her past three majors have yielded increasingly embarrassing performances. She was a surprise loser in last year's U.S. Open final to Samantha Stosur, then lost in the fourth round at the Australian Open (to Ekaterina Makarova) and, shockingly, in the first round at Roland Garros to Virginie Razzano.
During the first week of the fortnight, she struggled with her movement, an essential ingredient for success here. She was forced to a third set twice and needed extra time to defeat Jie Zheng 9-7 in the third. But then, as she did in her finest years, Serena found the next gear.
And the next.
She wrecked defending champion Petra Kvitova, then raised her game again against Azarenka - the only female player to not drop a set coming into the semifinals. Movement? There were times when Serena actually got to the ball too quickly and lost her footing putting on the breaks.
Her dominance in the moments that mattered (the first set and the second-set tiebreaker) was so complete we will spare you a single sentence of play-by-play. You're welcome.
Azarenka, who began the season with 26 straight match wins, including a title at the Australian Open, was made to look at times like one of the players in the junior draw. Williams has now beaten her eight times out of nine; Azarenka has won only one of their 13 sets in majors.
Much has been made of Roger Federer's journey to the other side of 30. Serena, only two months younger, is also approaching the outer limits of historic success in Grand Slam events. She was the first 30-year-old women's semifinalist since Steffi Graf in 1999.
The last time a 30-something won here at Wimbledon? It was Martina Navratilova, some 22 years ago.
Navratilova, like so many great champions on these lush lawns had a powerful serve. No less an authority, John McEnroe calls Serena's the best serve he's ever seen on the women's side. For context, consider that Mirjana Lucic, with 23 aces, is No. 3 among the leaders here. Serena matched that total in a single match against Zheng Jie and surpassed it Thursday.
"When she was little I wanted her to throw like a boy," Richard Williams explained. "I bought her a football. And her serve is just throwing. That's why the serve is so devastating."
However, he insisted, it was Serena's return that turned the match.
"In my opinion," Richard said, "I think it's the return on the serve that puts so much pressure. And the return that Serena puts on people's serve, it is devastating. It's probably the best I've seen. And I think it has a lot to do with how she's played."
It has been a busy fortnight for Serena. In addition to six singles matches, she's also playing doubles with sister Venus. On Wednesday, her day off from singles, Serena played two doubles matches. On Thursday she played a singles match, along with a doubles quarterfinal.
Clearly, multi-tasking is agreeing with her.
One of the underplayed storylines at this Wimbledon is the sibling rivalry bubbling beneath the surface here in the Williams sisters' private garden. In the past 12 years, Venus and Serena have combined to win nine Wimbledon singles titles, and now it could well be 10 of 13.
That would give them five apiece, a nice round number.
Don't think Serena wouldn't relish raising the sterling ladies' trophy, the Venus Rosewater Dish, late Saturday afternoon.
This article first appeared on ESPN.com