Saturday 24 February 2018

Serena shows no mercy in speedy charge to final

Serena Williams reaches for a return as she makes short work of Elena Vesnina Picture Credit: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
Serena Williams reaches for a return as she makes short work of Elena Vesnina Picture Credit: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Jim White

After the marathon came the sprint. Following Andy Murray and Roger Federer's epic encounters on Centre Court on Wednesday, Serena Williams galloped through her semi-final with the impatience of a nine-year-old in pursuit of a new smartphone.

Forty-eight minutes was all it took to dispense with poor Elena Vesnina, the fastest grand-slam semi-final this century. In truth, Williams's post-match press conference lasted longer than her opponent's resistance.

Read More: Serena in vogue again with slam cover shot in her sights

"I felt good," the victor said after her 6-2, 6-0 triumph. "I felt like I was there no matter what happened. I obviously felt like I had a chance to make it to the final. I was really focused today. We've had tough matches before and I knew she could bring it to me on this surface."

It would be a brave soul who attempted to rehearse with Williams the arguments about the delivery of value for money at these equal-pay championships. But let's put it this way: watching up in the Royal Box, the Duchess of Cambridge must have wondered if she had been a day late heading to Wimbledon.


Never mind visiting the edge of her seat, she would have been lucky to stifle a yawn; what she was watching was less a battle, more a procession.

But then getting things over and done with quickly suited Williams. She is a woman in a hurry, anxious as speedily as she can to overtake Steffi Graf at the top of the charts of grand slam achievements in the open era.

"I mean, I think for anyone else in this whole planet, it would be a wonderful accomplishment," she said of reaching her 28th grand slam final. "For me, it's not enough. I need to feel that trophy. But I think that's what makes me different. That's what makes me Serena."

Clearly, even after all these years of success, winning is what drives her.

She started these Championships one behind Graf's record haul of 22 singles titles and is now but three sets away from equalling it. Though if she plays like she did here, the chances of her encounter with Angelique Kerber tomorrow stretching as far as three are thin indeed.

Williams was in a dominant mood. Her unseeded opponent had never reached such a stage in a grand slam before. A doubles specialist, she has twice been the runner-up at Wimbledon in both the ladies' and mixed doubles. But as a singles performer, she was in nosebleed territory, her best here reaching the last 16 as long ago as 2009. Her career winnings a mere $70 million less than Williams, she knew from the moment she walked out on court she was up against it.

Read More: 'Women deserve equal pay' - Serena Williams challenges establishment after emphatic Wimbledon win  

"I felt like I had no chance today," she admitted. "I felt like Serena was playing really good. She was in a great mood, and the serve was working really well for her." She was not wrong. From the off, Williams was in swaggering control. She broke the Russian's first service game and never looked back. At times it appeared she would have got more of a game from a mechanical serving aid than poor Vesnina. Here is how in charge Williams was: in all bar one of the Russian's service games she earned herself at least a break point.

Everything her opponent tried, Williams swatted back with the contempt of a wanton schoolboy crushing a fly. Not that the Russian lacked effort. Every time she hit the ball, Vesnina let out a noisy "hi-ya" yelp, making her sound like an overexcited checkout girl greeting their next customer.

Within moments of her first introduction to the Williams return, however, she was saying goodbye to her chances.

"Sometimes you can't even finish your serve before the ball is passing you," said Vesnina.

Though to be fair to the Russian, once Williams unleashes her forehand passing strokes, a combination of Graf, Martina Navratilova and Margaret Court in their prime would struggle to reach them.

It took just 28 minutes to win the first set. The second was even easier. By then the pattern had been set: when Williams served, at up to 126mph, Vesnina got nowhere near as the ball thwacked into the back boards.

When the Russian served, Williams returned the ball precisely where she wanted it to land, moving her opponent around court like she had charge of the remote control and this was a video game. Seemingly mesmerised, Vesnina did precisely what Williams wanted her to do: lose quickly and easily.

So now the object in the path of Williams's record is Kerber, who stunned her in the final at the Australian Open in January. "She came out swinging, ready to win. She was fearless," said Williams of the German's performance in Melbourne. "That's something I learnt. When I go into a final, I, too, need to be fearless like she was."

Kerber has been warned. If Williams is in this sort of mood, her opponent would be wise to invest in some body armour.

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