Serena conquers inner demons

WIMBLEDON, England -- Andy Murray isn't the only one who has conquered demons here at Wimbledon. In beating Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 7-6 (6) to advance to the women's final, Serena Williams might have overcome her own inner hang-ups.

Williams is now the heavy favorite against Agnieszka Radwanska, who defeated Angelique Kerber in a more routine 6-3, 6-4. It's the power and reputation of Williams versus the cleverness and guile of Radwanska.

Here are five takeaways from semifinal Thursday:

1. Huge win for Serena

Williams' loss against Virginie Razzano in the first round of the French Open left her fragile. Asked last week whether she had overcome her Roland Garros loss, Williams still demurred a bit in her response. All she could do was hope it was behind her.

The way she toiled against Zheng Jie and then Yaroslava Shvedova suggested the disappointment was still on her mind.

Her victory against Azarenka, especially the manner of the win, must mean it's now out of her system. No one apart from sister Venus has ever topped Williams in a Wimbledon semifinal.

Up a set and a break and cruising, Williams dropped serve to give Azarenka an opening.

Yet when the tiebreaker arrived, her serve didn't disappear, and more crucially, Williams was steady off the ground. She did, however, overcome a poor drop shot on a first match point. The shot smelled of panic. Against Razzano, it was a second-set tiebreaker that was her undoing.

Williams' 24 aces bettered the Wimbledon record she already owned, and the figure was more impressive because there were no double faults. Her first-serve percentage of 70 was outstanding, too.

With Serena's doubts gone, it's not a case of whether Radwanska can win the final, but rather how many games she'll collect.

2. Serving notice herself

How many times have you heard someone yell, "Just get the first serve in"? Evidently Radwanska has listened, because that sage advice played a key role in her win over Kerber.

Her serve isn't the quickest, but Radwanska hit her spots brilliantly. On the deuce side, she went out wide to open up the court and, on the ad side, went out wide to do the same. Her goal when serving isn't to end the rally but to help her construct points.

Kerber entered the semis having broken her opponents 26 times, tied for second with Radwanska, although she'd played tougher foes than the Pole and significantly fewer sets than Tamira Paszek, who held the top spot. On Thursday, Kerber broke only once.

Kerber won more points behind her first serve but converted only 56 percent of her first serves. With neither possessing much oomph on the second delivery, Kerber was punished.

Against Williams, Radwanska will need to be even more efficient. Anything in the middle of the box will sit in Williams' strike zone.

As for trying to return Williams' serve ...

3. Nice reaction

Radwanska had every reason to celebrate wildly when the match ended. Aside from reaching her maiden Grand Slam final, she became the first Polish woman to get to a Slam finale since 1939.

But mindful of her close friendship with Kerber, she simply bobbed in the air modestly before exchanging a warm handshake and kiss on the cheek with Kerber. She also was composed in her postmatch interview.

Conclusion? She's not content to be in the final. She wants the W.

4. Better body language from Vika

Although Azarenka lost, her body language against Williams at Wimbledon was much better than in Madrid two months ago. On Thursday she was pumping her fist and patting herself on the thigh, willing herself on.

In the Spanish capital, an agitated, tired Azarenka slammed her racket and reverted to her old ways. She needs to maintain Thursday's demeanor, because a calm, composed Azarenka will win more majors.

After she dipped toward the end of the clay-court season, and not having played a grass-court warm-up, a semifinal was a good result for Azarenka. She'll soon be back on her favored hard courts.

Did anyone notice that Azarenka became the crowd favorite in the second set? Yes, longing to watch more tennis apparently outweighs the shrieks.

5. Cat and mouse

Williams and Azarenka played bang-bang tennis. Not so for Kerber-Radwanska.

Radwanska can drive players mad with her propensity to throw up defensive lobs that land near the back of the court. (Hello, Murray.) It won her several points; Kerber didn't take the ball out of the air, allowing Radwanska to get into position on the ensuing ball.

They produced the rally of the tournament in the second set, which featured a Kerber lob, a Kerber drop shot, another Kerber lob, a Radwanska lob, a Kerber moon ball and a Radwanska backhand long.

Kerber threw her arms up in the air in joy, similar to when she won a key point against Sabine Lisicki in the quarterfinals. But unlike Tuesday, there was no comeback.