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London: At heart, Serena Williams is a prize fighter straight out of Wild West mythology. She might be plying her trade on a hallowed piece of turf in tennis attire, but the racquet is her gloves and she has the attitude of a boxer from a distant era.
In the 123rd Wimbledon championships, the former world champion has been saying that this was her year. It still maybe.
But then, several times in Thursday’s semifinal match against Elena Dementieva of Russia, that statement of hers might have appeared like unsupported over-confidence.
Yet Serena is a player to whom flirting with death is a life-affirming activity. She enjoys it as only the best of fighters do.
Down a set and struggling to groove her groundstrokes — especially her forehand — the two-time champion not only lost the first set but came within a point of losing the match in the decider when serving to stay in the contest in the 10th game.
From there it was a tale of guts and glory as she held to 5-5 after three deuce calls and then completed a 6-7(4), 7-5, 8-6 victory in two hours and 49 minutes. It was the longest women’s semifinal match in a Grand Slam event in the Open Era (post-1968).Dominant Venus
There could not have been a greater contrast to this match than the second semifinal in which the defending champion Venus Williams outclassed the top-seeded Russian Dinara Safina 6-1, 6-0 in just 51 minutes.
So it is that same old line-up again for Saturday: Williams versus Williams.
This is their decade at the great old championship, as much as it has been Roger Federer’s.
“It was really, really tough. Elena played a very good match and she has played and won against me in the past. I had to dig really deep. We gave the crowd a wonderful match,” said Serena. For sustained quality, it was not a match that will be right up there with the very best seen in the women’s championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
But it was an epic struggle of endurance and daring and the tide of the battle shifted back and forth at a dizzying pace.
There was brilliant and remorseless shotmaking from both players and extraordinary blunders as well. It was Serena’s serve — apart from her tenacity — that finally made the difference as she let herself out of jail late in the third set.
Asked what her thoughts were when she faced that matchpoint, Serena simply said: “Ace.”
As it turned out, it wasn’t an ace but she did follow her big serve halfway to the net and hit a forehand winner off the weak return.
Dementieva has a good head to head record against Serena; the Russian has beaten the former world No.1 three times in their last four meetings.Proud record
Then again, Serena has been beaten only twice in her 15 Grand Slam semifinals and not once in her last seven appearances at that stage. It is a proud record to own and one worthy of the fight she put up to stay in the championship.
After breaking Serena’s serve in the opening game of the match, Dementieva lost serve in the next game and then hit three big serves to get herself out of a hole in the eighth game when she was 0-40 down.
In the tiebreak, two forehand errors from Serena, who made 28 unforced errors in the match, gave the Russian an opening. She sent down a double fault on her first setpoint but wrapped it up on the next.
Serena found the early break in the second set but was broken back in the sixth game. And it wasn’t until she challenged a call and won the 11th game on Dementieva’s serve that the American might have come to believe that she was back in the contest.
Still there was plenty of drama as the Russian continued to return serves very well and hit blistering winners on either flank. But after forcing Serena through three deuce calls when the American served for the set, Dementieva missed an easy forehand that would have given her a chance to even the set.
Again, after Serena double faulted to breakpoint in the fourth game of the decider and then missed an easy forehand to lose serve, Dementieva failed to take control of the match, losing serve in the fifth game.
Then came that critical 10th game where the former champion battled as only she can before booking her place in the final.Leander-Cara Black in semifinals
Leander Paes and his Zimbabwean partner Cara Black played with tremendous confidence to Andre Sa of Brazil and Ai Sugiyama of Japan 6-3, 6-3 for a place in the mixed doubles quarterfinals.
Prefix denotes seeding
Women’s singles: Semifinals: 2-Serena Williams (U.S.) bt 4-Elena Dementieva (Rus) bt 6-7(4), 7-5, 8-6; 3-Venus Williams (U.S.) bt 1-Dinara Safina (Rus) 6-1, 6-0.
Women’s doubles: Quarterfinals: 3-Samantha Stosur & Rennae Stubbs (Aus) bt Kristina Barrois (Ger) & Tathiana Garbin (Ita) 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Men’s singles: Quarterfinals: 6-Andy Roddick (U.S.) bt Lleyton Hewitt (Aus) 6-3, 6-7(10), 7-6(1), 4-6, 6-4.
Men’s doubles: Semifinals: 1-Bob Bryan & Mike Bryan (U.S.) bt 9-Wesley Moodie (SA) & Dick Norman (Bel) 7-6(4), 7-6(3), 6-4.
Mixed doubles: Quarterfinals: 1-Leander Paes (Ind) & Cara Black (Zim) bt 11-Andre Sa (Bra) & Ai Sugiyama (Jpn) 6-3, 6-3; 12-Stephen Huss (Aus) & Virginia Ruano Pascual (Esp) bt 4-Kevin Ullyett (Zim) & Su-Wei Hsieh (Tpe) 6-3, 5-7, 9-7.
Junior boys doubles: First round: 2-Hsieh Cheng Peng and Huang Liang-chi (Tai) bt Mitchell Frank (U.S.) & Sudarwa Sitaram (Ind) 6-1, 6-2.
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