the legend

joyful rogger fedder

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Day 10 Preview

Photo Titled Venus power
Venus Williams powers into the semi-finals with a straight sets victory over Agnieszka Radwanska.

It has come down, to nobody's astonishment, to a straight shoot-out in this afternoon's women’s semi-finals between the United States and Russia. Or, more accurately, between the Williams family and Russia, with defending champion Venus taking on the world number one, Dinara Safina, and sister Serena tackling Elena Dementieva.

They are the top four here this year, so it is the first time the top four seeds have dominated the women's semi-finals at any Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2006.

The difference this time is that whereas the trophy shelves at the various Williams’ residences must be sagging under the weight of golden pots, the two Russians cannot claim a Grand Slam title between them. This is not for the want of trying, especially in the case of Dementieva who is appearing in her 43rd Grand Slam.

The only other woman Grand Slam champion who has had to wait longer than that before striking gold is Jana Novotna, and things did not come good for her at Wimbledon in 1998 until she had got rid of years of disappointment by famously weeping on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent as she was offered another piece of runner-up silverware in 1997.
Dementieva has not yet resorted to tears, but frustration must be a regular companion these days. In her 11th season, she has yet to win a Grand Slam title. But three semi-finals in succession (Wimbledon and US Open 2008 and Australia 2009), as well as two final appearances in 2004 (French Open and US Open) seems an indication that she is prepared to take that final step at last.

In contrast, Safina has already, at the age of 23 compared with Dementieva's 27, played three finals and lost them all. She started at the French Open last year and finished second best in both Grand Slams before Wimbledon, losing to Serena Williams in Australia and Svetlana Kuznetsova in Paris. The tide is bound to turn for her soon, but whether this will be the moment to land another place in a final is debatable. Doubtful, even. The only Russian women to have reached a Wimbledon final are Olga Morozova (1974) who did not win it, and Maria Sharapova (2004) who did.

That Sharapova moment was one of the only two years in this century that the Williamses did not cart off the booty and the trophy. What a class act these sisters are. Serena's 10 Grand Slams are spread around all four Slam venues, while Venus's seven amount to five Wimbledons and two US Opens.

It is not only by sheer arithmetic that Venus stakes a claim as the Williams who comes closest to taking ownership of Wimbledon's acreage - if such heresy were permissible - although Serena has been making big noises these past two weeks about it being about time she got to win the title again.

Venus Williams has not lost a set at Wimbledon since the third round in 2007

First, then, the Safina-Venus affair. They have met once this year, on the clay of Rome's Foro Italico, and the Russian won their semi-final in three sets. They have never met on grass, though, and it is on this surface that Venus and her game come together to such devastating effect.

She has not even lost a set here since the third round in 2007, which makes 32 sets in a row, and though she is sporting tape around the left knee, we have been assured that she intends to play through whatever pain may be affecting her. As Venus might have said (but hasn't so far) "No gain without pain."

Though they could not possibly meet before the final, Serena is firmly on the record as disapproving of Safina, and any other woman, who can ascend to world number one without having won a Grand Slam. Just doesn't seem natural, according to the younger Williams. Perhaps she was a bit miffed to lose her latest stint at the peak of the women's game last autumn to Jelena Jankovic, who also has yet to triumph at a major.

Although Venus did not choose to labour this particular point after her quarter-final win over Agnieszka Radwanska, she was happy to let everyone know that she and her sister "play the style of game that is the most effective, and I think we are the best at this style". In other words, they are better than anybody, whether they have won a Grand Slam or not. It is an opinion that resists argument.

It is entirely possible that Safina could upset the Venus apple cart. She is younger and stronger. But she is definitely not wiser. And that is what will be most likely to tip the balance the Williams way on Centre Court. But should the verdict not go the way of Marat Safin's sister, there is this consolation: she will remain world number one after Wimbledon, whatever.

The Centre Court proceedings open with Serena versus Dementieva. This will be the ninth time these two have teed off and perusal of their head to head reveals the interesting statistic that, although Serena leads 5-3, it is Dementieva who has ended up with the better results in their most recent encounters.

Williams won the first four, only to lose the next three, including at the Beijing Olympics, where the Russian came out on top in a three-set quarter-final. But at the Australian Open in January, their semi-final was a straight-sets stroll for Serena.

What would have been a further opportunity for Dementieva to close the gap to 5-4 was foiled when Serena pulled out of their semi-final at the Paris indoor event in February with an injury. And that is how it has been left, until now.

But, like Venus, Serena tends to get really serious at the Slams. She has been beaten only twice in her 15 semi-finals at the majors, and has won the past seven. The last defeat came six years ago at Roland Garros (to Justine Henin). Like Big Sis, Serena is also a much-taped athlete now, in her case around the ankles. But it hasn't made a visible impact on her sock-it-to-'em style. Dementieva has of late upped the strength of a formerly distinctly "iffy" serve but it may not be enough to derail the two-coach Williams Express.

There are some interesting statistics about aces and double faults about today’s games. Serena has got this far at the 2009 Championships with 40 aces and only nine double faults. The Venus statistics are 22 and 10. When you come to the Russians, it tips the other way. Safina has 16 aces and 31 double faults, Dementieva 13 and 33. Is there perhaps a Russian Academy of Double Faults?

No comments:

Post a Comment