Why The Wimbledon Fun Has Only Just Begun For Serena Williams
LONDON -- The one-day turnaround from fourth round to Wimbledon quarterfinal seems to be exactly what Serena Williams needed -- a high-emotion match against her sister followed by a high-energy challenge against a longtime foe -- to set her up for the remainder of the tournament.
But more to the point, this is the fun part for Williams.
"I feel like my tournament has finally begun," she said the other day. "This is where I feel really comfortable in a Grand Slam."
And where everyone else squirms.
The last five times Williams has reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal, and seven of the last eight times, she has gone on to win the title. As closers go, she's Mariano Rivera, the tennis equivalent of Aaron Rodgers in the red zone.
Finishing off an afternoon of women's quarterfinals Tuesday featuring three Americans, and with three of the four matches going to three sets, only one U.S. player and one clear tournament favorite emerged.
Three guesses as to who that is.
Williams' 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 23 seed Victoria Azarenka propels her to her 28th Grand Slam semifinal, where she is 24-3, and to a clear shot at her fourth consecutive Slam title.
The only person with more invested in Tuesday's quarterfinal than Williams and Azarenka was Williams' semifinal opponent Maria Sharapova, who has an 8-7 career record against Azarenka and is 2-17 against Williams, her last victory coming more than a decade ago.
In Azarenka, a two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1, Williams was facing an opponent who has seldom appeared intimidated against her and has beaten her three times. In the world of Serena Williams, this is the equivalent of a tough out.
But Williams is now 17-3 against Azarenka, including a 10-0 record in Grand Slam matches.
"We just saw today why Serena is No. 1," Azarenka said. "I haven't seen her play like this, honestly ..."
Still, Azarenka, as she so often did before a foot injury derailed much of 2014, pushed Williams to a level of tennis that was as superior as it gets.
"I think we put on a great show together really," Azarenka said. "I think it's been a while since there was that high quality of women's tennis.
"I wasn't surprised because I know she's going to do everything to win there, and I was just trying to stay focused and apply my game. But she really stepped it up at really key moments."
Asked for more specifics, Azarenka stared incredulously.
"Did you see the 24 aces?" she said of Williams' match total, which was actually 17. "That's pretty good. That's pretty good. It's almost a set of aces...."
Tuesday marked the eighth three-setter between the two players. But while overcoming slow starts is nothing new to Williams -- four times she lost the first set in the French Open en route to the title -- she was still working against the odds.
Before the Azarenka match, she had a 33-32 career record in Grand Slams after losing the first set, and an 8-8 mark at Wimbledon.
Once Williams gets to the third set, she said, her head takes over.
"I feel really vulnerable in a third set, if I'm down a set," Williams said. "I just feel this is another opportunity for me to lose.
"I have one more set to win or to lose [and] I just go for it. At that point I kind of relax and whatever happens, happens."
But for Williams, who has lost just one of 38 matches this year and often has to create her own suspense, a go-around with Azarenka was more than enough to get her competitive juices flowing.
"Whenever I see her name I get excited because I feel like there's going to be an opportunity to see how far I am, how well I'm doing," she said. "We always play each other pretty much every tournament. I'm usually getting used to that."
The only thing getting either of them more excited than Tuesday's match were the inevitable questions afterward about both players' grunting, seemingly a competition within the competition that drew laughter from the crowd on several occasions.
Azarenka, one of the loudest on the tour along with Sharapova, had no patience with the discussion.
"You know, I'm so tired of these questions all the time," Azarenka said. "It's so in a way annoying because guys grunt. I was practicing next to [Rafael] Nadal, and he grunts louder than me, and nobody notices that. Why? I don't understand why. Because the women on the court are both trying their hardest and giving everything they have, and they make a noise. Is that a problem of tennis?
"It happens in every sport. So I think maybe it's time to just put it aside and not talk about it all the time because this is not what is important when there are two players playing on the Centre Court. We got to look a little bit past that and see, Oh, my God, Serena played 24 aces. ...
"Look at the good stuff. Stop bringing this ridiculous stuff. Let's put aside the noise and how she looks, and look at the game. The game proved itself today."
Williams was not quite as upset, but only because she refused to talk about it.
"I'm done with the controversy," she said. "I can't. I'm tired."
Asked if the crowd's laughter was disrespectful, Williams replied, "Me and Vika, we were just giving our all out there. Literally we gave everything that we had."
And had a good time doing it.
"I've been really enjoying it," she said of her current run. "I think that's why I've been able to have this opportunity to play well, to do well, because every time I step out on the court, it's been fun. It's really a fun time for me."