Saturday, August 4, 2012
Williams playing best tennis of career
By Ravi Ubha ESPN.com
Did anyone see Serena Williams offering up this sort of demolition job when she toiled in the first week at Wimbledon?
Williams scraped past a few opponents thanks to her serve, admittedly still a little jaded after her seismic defeat by Virginie Razzano at the French Open. Even in the Wimbledon final, Williams suffered a hiccup and was stretched to three sets.
Her improvement at the Olympics has been Katie Ledecky- or Ye Shiwen-like -- without whispers of you know what.
Williams completed her week of destruction on the historic grass at the All England Club by routing Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 to win singles gold and achieve the career Golden Slam.
In six matches, she conceded a stingy 17 games.
Here are five more takeaways from Saturday at the All England Club:
Serena's improved footwork
Williams' commitment to tennis has been questioned in the past. But her desire to recover after the loss to Razzano was demonstrated by taking on Patrick Mouratoglou, who is most famous for his collaboration with one-time Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis, as an adviser. She stuck around in Paris and worked on her game. Mouratoglou, meanwhile, has become an integral part of the team, more often than not showing up in Serena's players' box.
Serena Williams dropped a mere 17 games in six matches at the Olympics.
Williams' footwork, which has never been her strongest point, was much better against Sharapova and at the Olympics in general. It's a major reason she was so solid off the ground and didn't spray balls, a feat made more impressive because it was so windy in southwest London in the past week.
Williams committed a mere seven unforced errors Saturday, an impressive number.
Serve more dominant than ever
Williams' path to the gold medal, on paper, should have been a difficult one. She had to contend with Sharapova; world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka; former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who has troubled her; former Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva; former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic; and up-and-coming Pole Urszula Radwanska.
But her groundstrokes, combined with her lethal serve, made life almost impossible for her opponents. Williams hit 60 aces over the six matches, less than the average she compiled at Wimbledon, yet she was broken only once.
Radwanska should take a bow. She was the one to do it in the second round at Wimbledon. Azarenka, Wozniacki and Jankovic didn't even manufacture a break point.
Sharapova had two break points in the second set. Williams saved them with a drive volley and a wicked backhand after, yes, she landed a first serve.
A determined Serena
How bad did Serena want this? Really bad, it's safe to say.
With Williams crushing Sharapova 6-0, 1-0, Williams took a swipe at the court with her racket -- simply because she lost a single point. Her mind didn't waver, and her focus was there throughout. Instead of giving Sharapova a game when Sharapova led 40-0 on serve, serving at 0-15, Williams broke her.
It was the same story against Azarenka in the semifinals. Coasting in the second set, she pumped her fist after she struck a winner. No letting up.
Too much tennis for Maria?
Sharapova spent much more time on the court in singles than Williams, and she appeared to be rubbing her leg during a changeover. Downing Sabine Lisicki in three hours in the third round must have taken its toll.
But with her healthy or slightly off, the outcome was never in doubt.
Williams has won eight in a row against Sharapova, dating back to 2005. Williams has lost only two sets in the process. Whereas Sharapova served well leading up to the final, going for more on the second serve, Williams ate up her second delivery, winning 13 of 15 points.
The wind, with Sharapova's higher ball toss, didn't help. She hit five double faults.
Sharapova, though, probably will be happy overall winning a silver medal in her first Olympics.
It wasn't a good day in singles for Russia, with Azarenka beating Maria Kirilenko in the bronze-medal game.
Andy Murray is playing one of the biggest matches of his career Sunday, meeting Roger Federer in the men's gold-medal match.
Did he have a nice hit in the morning, do some stretches and take it easy Saturday? No.
Murray played in a mixed doubles quarterfinal, teaming with Laura Robson to beat Aussies Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur. And he had to play the semifinal later Saturday.
Points are quick. It's a fun competition, and the feel-good factor of competing at home is high, so Murray will be hoping that will offset any fatigue and deviation from the normal routine. He'll have less time to think about the men's final, which might be a good thing.
Revenge for Murray, or a double for Roger?