Tuesday 17 October 2017

Williams holds all the aces to scupper Radwanska's dream

Steve Tongue

The serve has it; Serena Williams still has it. Tomorrow's women's singles final will be a formidable task for Agnieszka Radwanska from Krakow, who has the incentive as Poland's first finalist here since 1937, of becoming No 1 in the world by winning it.

In yesterday's semi-final victory, Williams sent a record 24 aces fizzing past Victoria Azarenka of Belarus -- who managed one -- to total 85 for the tournament and emphasise what a weapon is still at her disposal.

Earlier, Radwanska, appearing in the last four of a Grand Slam event for the first time, saw off Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-3 6-4 in an absorbing match that offered a preview of how the final is likely to shape up: Radwanska slighter and less powerful, but with significant court-craft and a range of shots.

Yesterday, that was too much for Kerber, but tomorrow she must stand up to her opponent's serve in a manner that nobody else has done in this tournament.

Williams has won their previous two meetings without dropping a set. After a wretched 2011 with injuries, she is coming on strong again and will be seeking a fifth Wimbledon singles title.

Furthermore, there is something to admire about a player who has earned £23m in winnings alone and is still so desperate to take every point in every match.

At 30, she appears as fit as any of her younger rivals, showing little sign of strain despite having played two winning doubles matches with her sister the previous day.

At times on Centre Court, where Azarenka's high-pitched shrieking was greeted with widespread laughter and even an imitation by one spectator, the Belarusian's worst mistake in a 6-3 7-6 defeat seemed to be inadvertently provoking her distinguished opponent with a youthful flourish.

The second set was full of such moments, like when a fine cross-court winner and then taking the Williams serve to deuce for the first time were each met with an ace. When Azarenka had the temerity to do the same thing two games later, the response comprised two successive aces.

A break down at that stage, Azarenka drew level, breaking back thanks to a Williams mishit off the frame. Growing more confident, she reached the tie-break and saved a match point when Williams lobbed too long but was finally beaten, appropriately, with yet another ace.

"I've been working so hard," said Williams -- another of her virtues. "Victoria is a great player and I got a little tight in the second set, looking too far into the future."

Of Radwanska, she said generously: "She's doing unbelievable, she'll get every shot back." That seems unlikely in the extreme.

The Pole nevertheless has the opportunity to achieve both of her ambitions in one, by becoming world No 1 and winning a Grand Slam title. Against Kerber, the left-hander who has risen 84 places to No 8 since the start of the US Open last summer, she won a vast majority of the longer rallies and was strong on her first serve, if weak on the second. Miscuing a drop-shot in the third game caused her to drop serve but from 3-1 down she ran through five games in a row for the first set.

Kerber hit more winners than Radwanska but also committed more unforced errors and suffered the only break of the second set to go 3-2 down after a wild backhand.

"She played better today," Kerber conceded. "My plan was playing aggressive tennis and making the points but she moves very well and makes not many mistakes. I think she has a good chance to win."

Radwanska was not keen to dwell on those chances but said: "I played very good. I had a tough quarter-final and it was good to have a day off because it is always tough against Angie. This is what I dreamed of as a kid, to play the final of a Grand Slam so these have been the best two weeks of my career. This tournament is a big part of tennis history in Poland and I'm happy to be part of that." (© Independent News Service)

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