What had to be the best match of the year took place today on Centre Court at Wimbledon. 2nd seed Serena Williams defeated 4th seed Elena Dementieva in an extravaganza of brilliant tennis. The 2-hour and 49-minute match--the longest women's semifinal in Wimbledon history--featured great serving, blistering groundstrokes, dramatic volleys, tense challenges, meaningful netcord events, and enough momentum shifts to crack the court open.
Elena Dementieva, often relying on the deftness of her second serve, won the first set in a tiebreak, but it wasn't easy. Serving at 3-4, 0-40, Dementieva managed to hold, and in doing so, created the first of many dramatic moments.
The second set began, like the first, with a break. Whereas the two players immediately traded breaks at the beginning of the first set, Dementieva was broken right off in the second, and did not break back until Williams served at 3-2. Dementieva hit a passing shot--one of the best shots of the match--to break, and when Williams served at 3-4, she double-faulted to set up a break point. Right after that, she hit a forehand down the line, which was called in, but Dementieva challenged the call. The ball was in; had it been out, Dementieva would have served for the match. There was a second break point, but Williams saved it, also.
Dementieva, suddenly struggling at 4-all, double-faulted. At 15-30, she saved herself with a sharp crosscourt forehand shot, only to see the ball bounce off the netcord and go wide. At 30-40, she had another netcord bounce that was called good, but Williams challenged successfully, getting the break. Williams then served for the set, went down 15-40, hit a second serve ace for 30-40, then won an intense rally to bring the game to deuce. Dementieva had a break point, as her opponent lost her footing. Williams then hit her 10th ace, then Dementieva got another break point, but made a mishit return. She set up another break point, but made a another misfit and sent the ball out of the court. Williams then hit two aces in a row to take the second set.
Serving at 1-2, deuce, in the third, Williams was broken. She broke back, and Dementieva began making errors she had not made earlier in the match, then--just as suddenly--she steadied herself again. When Williams served at 4-5, 30-all, she made an awkward approach shot, which created a match point for Dementieva. Williams' answer was to make a much better approach shot and save the match point. She then hit an ace, but the game returned to deuce when she made an error. Williams then hit another ace, and then held, after an attempted down-the-line shot by Dementieva landed outside the court.
Dementieva then held, and the tenion in the stadium was palpable. Williams, serving at 5-6, double-faulted and went down 0-30, but then used her big serve to even the score. The game went to deuce, then Williams hit yet another ace, but the score went back to deuce. Following an intense rally, Dementieva fell down. There was another big rally, and Williams suddenly put some extra topspin on her forehand, disturbing Dementieva's rhythm, and winning the game. Dementieva served at 6-all, saved a break point at 15-40, but then was broken. Williams then held, finally putting an end to the drama.
I was a bit surprised by the rather perfunctory (though friendly) nature of the handshake. I was also exhausted, just from watching. Elena Dementieva and her many fans must be heartbroken. Her performance was near-perfect throughout, her recent record against Williams is excellent, yet she still couldn't win. That is because Wimbledon is a very big deal, and when she is competing at a very important event, Serena Williams has resources of which other players cannot even conceive. In today's match, she hit 45 winners, including 20 aces.
Today's victory must have been one of the most satisfying in Williams' recent career--maybe in her entire career. I'm sure I join many other fans in thanking her and Dementieva for putting on such an amazing show for us.
Then there was the other semifinal, and we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. 3rd seed Venus Williams defeated top seed Dinara Safina 6-1, 6-0. It took the defending champion only 51 minutes to do the job, and the job included only one unforced error. Safina's first and second serve win percentages were 37 and 38, and that about says it all.
So, on Saturday--once again--the Queen of Grass vs. the Queen of Kick Your Ass. Serena is going for her third Wimbledon title, and Venus is going for her third in a row. Both sisters have performed wonderfully the past week and a half, and we can expect them to perform at the top level in the final.