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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Serena battles to win classic semi

Photo Titled Serena Strikes
Serena Williams battles Elena Dementieva for a place in the Ladies' final.

Saving a match point along the way, Serena Williams battled through to the women's singles final by defeating Russia's Elena Dementieva 6-7 7-5 8-6. At two hours 49 minutes it was the longest women's semi-final at Wimbledon in the era of Open tennis. It was also, by some distance, the finest women's match at the 2009 Championships so far.

Dementieva, the Olympic champion, went into the match a clear underdog, despite a superior recent record against the American. But her beefed-up serve, her relentlessly accurate groundstrokes and her fighting spirit extended Williams to the very limit. The difference between winning and the exit door was that Dementieva was found wanting at the key moments and on key points, plus the fact that luck, the net cord and the Hawk-Eye calling system were also generally in Serena's corner.

Before the match Serena's father and coach, Richard Williams, had opined "Serena is hitting like a man", and his daughter proceeded to fulfil that comment with her every shot, her every serve and her astonishing stamina under pressure.

The Russian applied pressure that Serena has certainly not seen in this tournament, or indeed for a long while. But, champion that she is, the response was there in the end, four games after she had fought off that match point with one of her more outrageous slices of good fortune, a forehand volley winner off the top of the net.

Expectations of another straight-sets victory suffered an immediate setback when she was broken in the very first game, despite opening proceedings with the first of her 20 aces. The response, a capture of the Russian's serve, was instantaneous, but the 4th seed Dementieva demonstrated, in a doggedly contested first set lasting 50 minutes, that she is certainly no longer intimidated by facing a power hitter. Her serve has improved immeasurably since her semi-final appearance here last year, but the second serve remains a liability at such a level and was frequently punished.

Dementieva fought off three break points at 3-4 and, encouraged by the occasional wild Williams error, took the set into a tiebreak, where more Serena mistakes offered Dementieva three set points. She fluffed the first with a double fault before Williams obliged by walloping a forehand service return wide.

The Williams counter-attack was immediate. She broke in the opening game of the second set and appeared comfortably in command until inexplicably dropping serve to love in the sixth game and slid into peril of defeat in straight sets when she faced two break points which would have given the Russian a 5-3 lead and left her serving for the match.

Good luck came Serena's way on the second of these when the Hawk-Eye machine called one of her shots in by a millimetre. With 10 Grand Slams already to her name, Serena did not need any more warnings. She broke , luckily once more, to lead 6-5 when a Dementieva net cord was ruled by Hawk-Eye to have dropped just out and even though she served out to level the match it was still only after Dementieva had failed to cash in on four more break points.

If what had gone before was thrilling, the final set produced breathtaking tennis. Dementieva broke to lead 3-1, was pulled back at once to 3-2 and though Williams continued to thunder down the aces, Dementieva had her huge opportunity with that match point at 5-5.

The moment was snatched away from her and the ruthless Williams guaranteed that there would be no more. The American broke to lead 7-6, reached match point with a forehand winner and screeched in jubilation on the next point as a Russian backhand landed long.

After a tournament of largely quickfire wins for the leading ladies, this was a match which will go into the record books. The only previous women’s singles semi-final to have stretched past two-and-a-half hours was the 1994 battle between Conchita Martinez and Lori McNeil. But today, two competitors went toe-to-toe for 169 absorbing minutes, beating that previous mark by 14 minutes.

The Centre Court's standing ovation for both women was fully merited.

Centre Court - Ladies' Singles - Semifinals
Elena Dementieva RUS (4)7756
Serena Williams USA (2)Winner6478

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