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Don't listen to Serena's words

WIMBLEDON, England -- Want to know where Serena Williams stands going into the Wimbledon semifinals? Don't listen to Serena Williams.

"There's a lot of people vying for it still," she said in a TV interview after defeating Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals. "I'm just happy to still be in it, and it's a dream come true for me."

Don't listen. She won't be happy with anything less than a win.

After all, Williams said last year she was happy with her fourth-round showing, given that it was only her second tournament back after some serious health scares and nearly a year away from competition. But a few weeks later, she wasn't as circumspect, saying, "I expected to win Wimbledon, so I'm not exceeding my expectations."

How big was the win over defending champion Kvitova?

"I mean, it just feels like a good win," Williams said. "You know, she was playing very well. I don't know if it was more about dethroning or going out there and playing the match and doing the best that I could."

Don't listen. Instead, watch those fist pumps after the match and see if there wasn't a little extra satisfaction. It was big. Not just because Kvitova was the defending champion, but also because the Czech was a real threat to end Williams' Wimbledon campaign.

And Williams responded in style, playing her best match of the tournament. Her serve had been firing since the beginning, but against Kvitova she also unleashed her powerful groundstrokes and was in full attack mode.

Whatever Williams says, if she can keep up this level of play, she knows that she is the overwhelming favorite for the title. She is a combined 10-1 against the rest of the semifinalists -- 7-1 against Victoria Azarenka, 2-1 against Agnieszka Radwanska and 1-0 against Angelique Kerber, though Williams has not played Radwanska since 2008 or Kerber since 2007. But neither of those two has reached a Grand Slam final before, so Williams also knows she would be facing a relatively inexperienced opponent come Saturday.

Azarenka is Williams' next opponent. Williams' only loss to the Belarusian came in the 2009 Miami final, and she defeated Azarenka in their last Grand Slam meeting at the 2011 U.S. Open.

But that was before Azarenka went on a tear at the beginning of the year, winning the Australian Open and 26 straight matches to start the season. If she can reach the final, Azarenka will be guaranteed to return to No. 1 after this tournament. Williams, meanwhile, started the event ranked No. 5 and will move up to No. 4.

All that has the four-time Wimbledon champion talking like an underdog going into their semifinal.

"She's had a better year than I have," said Williams. "She's been so successful already, like I said, winning a Grand Slam. Going against a player like that, I feel like she almost has an advantage, I guess. So, you know, that makes me really relaxed and I can just kind of hit."

Don't listen. Look instead at Williams' dominant 6-1, 6-3 victory in the Madrid final in May, though with a couple of caveats: Azarenka may have been affected by a shoulder injury, and she has often played Williams tough in the past. But particularly on this surface, in this form, a Williams loss would be an upset no matter what their current seedings.

After struggling during parts of last week, Williams talked about the need to be more relaxed in order to find her game. That can often be a circular process, and she will find it easier to relax now that she does seem to have found her game. But that doesn't mean the pressure is off.

"I have absolutely nothing to lose, so it's really fun," Williams said of her Wimbledon experience this year.

Don't listen. She is all business. She's in shape. And she's been winning WTA titles despite falling short at the Slams since her comeback a year ago. So Williams has an added sense of urgency at the majors these days. Now that Williams is the overwhelming favorite to triumph here, her aura will suffer serious damage unless she comes through.

Talk to Williams about anything less than winning, and there are no more rose-colored answers.

"I hate losing," she said, when asked if all her semifinals meant much to her. "If I lose, I don't keep the trophy. So semifinal, it's great in a way, but at the end of the day if you're not first, you're last."

Listen to that.