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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Serena gains crushing revenge

Photo Titled Serena strength
Serena Williams works the ball during her quarter-final victory over Victoria Azarenka.

Serena Williams blasted her way into the semi-finals with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over the hugely promising Victoria Azarenka. The 19-year-old from Minsk subjected Williams to a crushing defeat in their last encounter earlier this year, but here she threatened only briefly in the second set before Serena got her revenge.

On a scorching day, the 10-time Grand Slam champion got off to a scorching start to match. It was the power and intensity of her game that was so stunning, and never mind that once again she was playing with both ankles heavily taped. Azarenka is rarely overawed by anything, and she herself was having a fine time hammering away from the baseline. But such was Serena’s aggression that the Belarusian simply could not stay with her. Serena’s play was littered with dazzling touches – a lovely running crosscourt forehand here, a 120mph serve there.

Of course Azarenka’s signature shriek was in evidence from the outset with every strike of the ball. Both were blasting winners around with abandon. But it was ominous that 27-year-old Williams – no stranger to the power grunt herself – was all but silent until the moments when she truly meant business.

Until then she looked watchful, almost wary of an opponent who she knew was capable of doing her mortal damage. No doubt the memory of April’s final in Miami – where Azarenka blew her away for the loss of just four games – was burning humiliatingly hot in Williams’ mind.

With Azarenka at 2-3, 15-30, Williams issued her first grunts of the day to underline the vigour of her hitting – and got the break point when she forced an error. A straightforward mistake from Azarenka delivered the break. By now Williams was looking scarily good, sending a two-handed backhand down the line from a near-kneeling position. She was also returning with huge power, and brought up two set points on Azarenka’s serve. A clouting forehand made the set hers. It had been an awe-inspiring display lasting 26 minutes.

Azarenka is a name on many lips this fortnight, and this quarter-final was a follow up to the last eight spot she earned last month at Roland Garros. She came into this match with three titles already under her belt in 2009, and it is not often mentioned that she is already a two-time Slam champion in the mixed (at the US Open 2007 with Max Mirnyi and at last year’s French Open with Bob Bryan). It is clear as day we are going to be hearing a lot more from her, both literally and metaphorically.

But if she was to make an impression on this match she needed to come up with something dramatic early in the second set. Williams saved one break point with a smash that only just crept over the net.

Serena sent a forehand long for another opportunity, but then delivered three aces in a row to rescue the game. At 2-2 Azarenka broke the Williams serve with an excellent return. But in the next game she gave away a string of break points with horrible mistakes, and on the third break point she made another error to put the set back on serve. By now she was leaking errors and Serena forced the conclusive breakthrough for 5-3, before serving out to love to secure her place in the last four.

Centre Court - Ladies' Singles - Quarterfinals
Victoria Azarenka BLR (8)23
Serena Williams USA (2)Winner66

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