Commentary

Serena serves Azarenka off court

Updated: July 5, 2012, 5:00 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- These days, it's almost too easy to take Serena Williams for granted.

After flicking aside Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 7-6 (6) on Thursday, she finds herself in a seventh final here at the All England Club. And with the way she flogged Azarenka, there won't be many backers for her next opponent, Agnieszka Radwanska, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Angelique Kerber.

Serena served up Azarenka on a plate, striking 24 aces.

[+] EnlargeSerena Williams
Gerry Penny/Pool/Getty ImagesSerena Williams cracked a Wimbledon-record 24 aces in her win over Victoria Azarenka.

The last one, down the middle in the ad court, gave her one more than her previous Wimbledon record total and career high. She now has a staggering 85 aces in six matches; her fastest, at 120 mph, was 15 mph faster than Azarenka's best.

"I honestly didn't feel great on my serve today," Serena said. "I really didn't. I think yesterday I felt pretty good. I don't know. Like I said, I just got to watch the film.

"I thought my serve was off, and apparently clearly it wasn't, so maybe I should be off a little more."

But look a little closer and you will see the sweat.

"This is the most important tournament that Serena would ever win," her father, Richard, told a small group of reporters after the match. "Even if she could win it next year, this one here would be the most important because Serena didn't think she'd ever play tennis again.

"She told me so."

It's been two years since Serena won a major, right here at Wimbledon. She's 0-for-7 since, although she missed three Grand Slams because of some horrific health issues. Her past three majors yielded increasingly embarrassing performances. She was a surprise loser in last year's U.S. Open final to Samantha Stosur, then lost in the fourth round at the Australian Open (to Ekaterina Makarova) and, shockingly, in the first round at Roland Garros to Virginie Razzano.

During the first week of the fortnight, she struggled with her movement, an essential ingredient for success here. She was forced to a third set twice and needed extra time to defeat Zheng Jie 9-7 in the third. But then, as she did in her finest years, Serena found the next gear. And the next.

She wrecked defending champion Petra Kvitova, then raised her game again against Azarenka -- the only female player not to drop a set coming into the semifinals. Movement? There were times when Serena actually got to the ball too quickly and lost her footing putting on the breaks.

But the final hurdle for Serena now comes against a woman in Radwanska who does very little, if anything, wrong.

"I think if I try to do too much overpowering I can be led to a lot of errors, so I don't know about that," Serena said. "I think my biggest challenge is Agnieszka is really, really good at everything. She has unbelievable hands. She's running every ball down every ball down.

"It's going to be challenging. It's not easy at all. She's already ranked ahead of me, so I think it will be a really good match."

Serena's dominance in the moments that mattered (the first set and the second-set tiebreaker) was so complete we will spare you a single sentence of play-by-play. You're welcome.

Azarenka, who began the season with 26 straight match wins, including a title at the Australian Open, at times was made to look like one of the players in the junior draw. Williams has beaten her eight times out of nine; Azarenka has won only one of their 13 sets in majors.

Much has been made of Roger Federer's journey to the other side of 30. Serena, only two months younger, is also approaching the outer limits of historic success in Grand Slam events. She was the first 30-year-old women's semifinalist since Steffi Graf in 1999.

The last time a 30-something won here at Wimbledon? It was Martina Navratilova, some 22 years ago.

"The older I get, the better I serve, I feel, and the more not I rely on it but the more I like to hit aces," Serena said. "But in my whole career I've hit a lot of aces throughout the tournaments and stuff."

Navratilova, like so many great champions on these lush lawns, had a powerful serve. No less an authority, John McEnroe calls Serena's the best serve he's seen on the women's side.

For context, consider that Mirjana Lucic, with 23 aces, is No. 3 among the leaders here. Serena matched that total against Zheng and surpassed it Thursday.

"Well, she serves 200 [kph]," Azarenka said. "That already makes it difficult. You know, I don't see anybody else serving like this on the tour. She places well. I don't know how many lines I got today.

"But there is no point to sit and cry how unfortunate I was because she played great. I just have to give her all the credit because she did her job. I was just trying to get the ball back as many times as I could, but it wasn't enough today."

There's a reason Serena's serve is the best on tour.

"When she was little, I wanted her to throw like a boy," Richard Williams explained. "I bought her a football. And her serve is just throwing. That's why the serve is so devastating."

However, he insisted it was Serena's return that turned the match.

"In my opinion," Richard said, "I think it's the return on the serve that puts so much pressure. And the return that Serena puts on people's serve, it is devastating. It's probably the best I've seen. And I think it has a lot to do with how she's played."

It has been a busy fortnight for Serena. In addition to six singles matches, she's also playing doubles with sister Venus. On Wednesday, her day off from singles, Serena played two doubles matches. On Thursday she played a singles match along with a doubles quarterfinal.

Clearly, multitasking is agreeing with her.

One of the underplayed storylines at this Wimbledon is the sibling rivalry bubbling beneath the surface here in the Williamses' private garden. In the past 12 years, Venus and Serena have combined to win nine Wimbledon singles titles, and now it could well be 10 of 13. That would give them five apiece.

Don't think Serena wouldn't relish raising the sterling ladies' trophy, the Venus Rosewater Dish, late Saturday afternoon.

Sandra Harwitt contributed to this article.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.