Wimbledon won’t be so pretty come Thursday morning.
Sure, tennis fans will be milling about the well-manicured grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, sipping on champagne and Pimm's, noshing on strawberries and cream, and generally doing what people do to convince themselves that, yes, they really are at Wimbledon, the most famous tennis tournament in the world.
Still, if the Williams sisters have anything to do with it—and if they play anything like they did in their quarterfinal matches today—when both women’s singles semifinal matches take place on Thursday, things will get ugly.
Their opponents will look like deer in headlights and the spectators, well, sometimes they won’t look at all. Either they won’t be able to watch the carnage the sisters are likely to unleash or they’ll be so transfixed they won’t be able to blink.
This isn’t to say their opponents, Russians Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva, won’t try to make it hard for Venus and Serena to reach yet another all-Williams final.
Quite the contrary. Safina’s World No. 1, the Olympic silver medalist, and was a finalist in the last two Grand Slams. Dementieva’s World No. 4, the Olympic gold medalist, and was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last year too. Both are well-known for their work ethic, fitness, and (relative) consistency.
In fact, those who drone on about the lack of consistency at the top of women’s tennis should note the rankings of the four semifinalists—No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4.
That the semifinals aren’t expected to be gripping has less to do with the Russians and more to do with the sisters.
The Williams sisters bring it when it counts, and, in tennis, the Grand Slams are when it counts. Knowing that winning one more match means they’ll meet in the final and that a Williams will win it all must provide additional motivation for them. If all this isn’t frightening enough for the Russians, today the sisters played some of the best tennis they’ve played in a long time.
Dinara Safina (1) vs. Venus Williams (3)
- Head-to-head record: 2-1 in Safina’s favor
- Summary: Safina won their most recent match, and it gave her a lot of confidence. However, that win was on clay, Safina’s best surface. This match will be on grass, Venus’s best surface and Safina’s worst. Safina needs time to set up for her shots, and grass doesn’t give it to her. Plus Venus has a distinct mental edge: She seems to feel invincible at Wimbledon, and Safina seems to feel doomed in later stages of Grand Slams. Safina got farther here than many expected, but she doesn’t have much of a shot against Venus.
- Prediction: Venus in two sets
Serena Williams (2) vs. Elena Dementieva (4)
- Head-to-head: 5-3 in Serena’s favor
- Summary: Serena won their most recent match, at the Australian Open in January. Dementieva’s a better mover than Serena, but Serena’s better at nearly everything else. Serena has the best return-of-serve among the women, but Dementieva’s not bad there either. Serena probably has the second-best serve (after Venus). Dementieva, on the other hand, is infamous for having a problematic serve, which has improved but isn’t nearly as good as Serena’s. Serena’s practically unbeatable in the later rounds of Grand Slams.
- Prediction: Serena in two sets
- Games lost at this Wimbledon: 19
- Best previous Wimbledon result: Winner (2000, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008)
Venus hasn’t dropped a set at Wimbledon this year. In fact she hasn’t dropped a set here since her third-round match in 2007. She’s been in seven of the last nine finals, and she’s won five times, including the last two years. Not surprisingly, she’s considered the best grass court player on the women’s tour.
"Everybody wants to know the secret," Venus said. "There is no secret. Just hard work, doing the right thing at the right moment, and making it happen."
She granted that her style of play is suited for grass: "You're rewarded for playing aggressively, and that's definitely how I play—aggressively."
Grass courts seem to magnify Venus’s strengths, including her serve speed, her quick movement, and her large wingspan at the net, and they minimize her weaknesses, including a forehand that can go awry and a second serve that’s attackable (relatively).
Venus certainly looks good this year. As usual, she had the fastest serve on the women’s side (124 mph). In her quarterfinal match against Agnieszka Radwanska, Venus did little wrong. She was far more aggressive and naturally made more errors (18 to Radwanska’s 12). What’s important is that she hit significantly more winners (29 to Radwanska’s six).
Venus dictated play so much that it seemed her opponent could only get points when Venus made errors. If you thought it looked hopeless for Radwanksa, you’re not the only one.
"Her tennis is so powerful," Radwanska said. "It was very hard to do anything today."
If Venus’s semifinal opponent, Dinara Safina, is scared, she’s not showing it. "I have nothing to lose," she said. "I know her weapons. I have my weapons. So I just want to go out there, play my best, and let's see."
- Games lost at this Wimbledon: 25
- Best previous Wimbledon result: Winner (2002, 2003)
When it comes to tennis, Serena at her best is better than anyone else at theirs. There’s no way to prove this, but most tennis watchers—Serena fans or not—will tell you it’s true. Add to that the fact that she’s the fiercest competitor out there, and what you have is a woman no one wants to see across the net.
Especially not at a Grand Slam tournament. Serena has 10 Grand Slam titles, which is more than anyone else on the tour. (Venus has the second most with seven.)
Since the start of the tournament, she’s been the favorite of oddsmakers, who give her a slight edge over Venus. In the past few rounds, though, Serena didn’t seem to be playing as well as Venus. She seemed less aggressive, making more unforced errors.
In her quarterfinal match, Serena picked it up against No. 8-ranked Victoria Azarenka. The Belarussian teenager, regarded by many as "the next big thing," is the only player who seemed to have a shot at stopping an all-Williams final.
Serena made beating the No. 8-ranked Azarenka, who had double-bageled an opponent a few rounds before, seem like just another day at the office.
She hit forehand and backhand winners with ease. She hit 26 winners (Azarenka hit seven). What’s more impressive is that she managed to do this while making only seven unforced errors (Azarenka made 13). She served with even more pace and precision than usual: She served nine aces and no double-faults. (Serena’s had the second most aces in the tournament.)
After the match, the sometimes bratty Azarenka was all praise for Serena.
"She's a real complete player," she said. "She has every shot. She's very strong mentally. She fights until the last moment. [That’s] what makes her a great champion."
Serena’s semifinal opponent, Elena Dementieva, used the same language to describe Serena. "She's a great champion," Dementieva said. "I just want to see how tough I can be out there against her."
The two played in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2003. At that time, Serena beat Dementieva in two sets. That was then, this is now, and even champions have to prepare.
"I don't remember that [match]," Serena said. "I'm gonna YouTube it though."