Serverena back to Major-winning ways at Wimbledon

Serena Williams Wimbledon 2012

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The first set between Serena and Aggie in the 2012 Wimbledon final was what we had all feared.

No, tennis fans did not fear Serena winning, not at all. (Neutral)Tennis fans are generally pleased to see Serena win. She is, without doubt, one of the Greatest women’s players ever and is generally much appreciated. No, what we feared was the first set score. 6-1. Thank God it was not a bagel. We wanted a competitive first set, not a blow out. There have been too many blow outs in Major women’s finals and they are not only a dissapointment but a shameful showcase for the sport on the most hyped day of a tournament with the most potential viewers.

Blowouts are, of course, in some ways understandable. There is a lot of pressure to play well before a worldwide audience of tennis fanatics, casual fans and your home country, and that bothersome side show, the Media, with all their cursed questions and criticisms. Sometimes the match is a blowout because there is just a bad match up, such as in this case, and that bad match up occurs on the worst possible surface for the ill-matched player. Blowouts will happen. It’s just that in tennis, they happen all too often. The last time we had a match which was not a blowout or a player did not choke was the Australian Open 2010. In fact, since 2005, when we saw the last classic major final between Venus and Davenport at Wimbledon, only two major women’s finals have gone the distance.Before that, from the French Open 1998 to the French Open 2005, nine matches had gone to three sets. That was during what many classify as the Golden age of Women’s tennis. Now, the current age is labeled as generation suck.

One of the members of the afore-mentioned generation, who was reportedly ill before the match, could not get on the scoreboard until 0-5 down in the first set when she managed to avoid the dreaded bagel which, one imagines, tastes oh so much staler in a major final when you are force-fed it before such a big audience, your disgraceful defeat falling out the sides of your mouth.

The brief setback to Serena’s march to the title did not set her back for long. Serena fed her a breadstick instead, serving out the set in a hurry to seal the set in 36 minutes as the rain began to fall.

After the break, Radwanska came out and won her first service game, which came as some relief to her and the crowd, who were even applauding Serena’s errors so eager to get the match we all craved. After all tickets to the final don’t come cheap and the rowd want some value for money. Particularly as it was not even as if Serena was playing lights out and we were witnessing an all time great performance. Serena was somewhat tentative in longer rallies and when Aggie went to her forehand, she struggled. Had Serena been in the form that she showed in the Australian Open finals of 2007 and 2009, then the crowd would have known they were seeing something special and felt lucky to be there. But this was anything but special. True there were some moments when Aggies hands delivered exquisite moments at the net and Serena worked her way into a point to end it with a glorious winner, but most of the time Serena was freepointing on her serve and taking advantage of her opponents subpar play that was uncharacteristically producing errors.

Serena held serve and then broke Aggie in her next service game to lead 2-1 and move closer to the tepid and inevitable conclusion. Aggie’s play did at least improve as Serena’s dropped, missing easy balls and her at times wonky movement betraying her. At 0-30, 2-3 down, Radwanska had a chance and a murmur of hope buzzed around the Center court.

Serena popped in a weak second serve and then hit rally shots until Aggie fed her a moonball but Serena whipped it away on the backhand with a vicious angle to scupper Aggie’s chance. 15-30. Another second serve. Serena won the point on a volley. This was the Serena we had seen many times since her first-strike Major winning heyday. This was Serena the patient, the point constructor. This was not first strike major winning form. 30-30 and the serve was back on. Serverena was back and she served her way to 4-2 and the clock read an hour.

Aggie had to hope that Serverena went away again, as she seemed prone to do that day. If Serverena was replaced by Rallyrena, then Aggie had more of a chance. Aggie is quite the point constructor herself. In the fifth game she showcased her very best as she moved Serena round the court with spin, slice, soft balls, and then a winning volley. Hitting deeper and painting the lines, Aggie moved to 40-15, served and volleyed and watched as Serena’s forehand flew long. Aggie was keeping herself close to Serena and the murmurs were growing louder.

4-3 and things were certainly looking more respectful for both the player and the game. The rallies were long and decorative. Some of them looking pretty against the backdrop of the grass. Still, though, the inevitable looked ominous. However, Radwanska had a few more things to say on the matter and pushed Serena to deuce, finally finding her skills, to rally with Serena, push her around and hit a winner down the line. A Serena forehand out and it was breakpoint Aggie. We expected Serena to ace her way out of trouble. The ace did not come, apparantly, according to the line judge. The serve was called out. But it was deservedly challegned and was proved well in. First serve again and the rain was falling. Then in a classic example of offense against defense, with Serena hitting brutal gorundstrokes to come in and miss on the forehand at the net that she took out the air and sent flying past the baseline.
4-4. We had a set on our hands. A match? Still unlikely, but a set at least. Serena upped her level now and with gritted teeth struck the ball to go up 0-30. Aggie fought back with good serving and coming to the net to force the error from Serena and then came out on top of another long rally to force the backhand error into the net from Serena to lead 5-4. Now there was no shame at all. No shame for the audience, the players, the game. Now we had a showcase where tennis could be shown off with pride.

At 15-0, Serena lost another long rally as Aggie sent a backhand past her at the baseline. Serena made sure to come forward after that and roared as she hit a forehand at the net for a winner. She would have to first-strike it to get her fifth strike on the grass. She did jut that and drew level to 5-5.

Aggie served out to love, in an improved display of serving and now the pressure was on Serena who was on the verge of her worst case scenario: being drawn into a long third set of rallies that did not go her way and saw Aggie emerge the winner.

On the first point of serving to stay in the set, Serena came in and netted the volley. A double fault. Were we going to see a similar meltdown to what we saw in Paris? On the next point, she moved in got the winner. 15-30. Then a powderpuff second serve was sent back with an angle and Serena hit the backhand at the net long.

Set point Aggie! A Serena error into the net off a slice ball from Aggie and it was one set all.

Blowout indeed! We had a match now. An actual three set match in a major final. Tennis fans the world over were elated. Aggie’s box were on their feet. Finally we had a tennis occassion that would deliver what sport should do: the question of who would win being asked until the final ball was struck or the final second counted.

With the advantage of serving first, Aggie saved break points in the first game, as Serena errored more than she winnered and Aggie bent down low to get back the deep and hard balls. Aggie won her service and now was the time, the momentum swinging strongly her way, to break and move ahead in the decider.

Serena the patient fought though. She rallied and waited for the opening for the winner. She found her first serve, she painted the lines and smashed for winners, she injected pace and ran down lobs. In the third game, both women showed how good rallies can be when the world’s best offense meets the worlds’s best denfense.

But a missed forehand and a double fault, and Radwanska was two break points down. This time an off forehand found the line. and a backhand taken out the air drew her to deuce. Another mid court forehand winner and it was advantage Aggie. And a backhand down the line error from Serena and it was 2-1 Aggie.

Acearena appeared in the next game as Serena hit four aces in a row to ace her way through a game.

2-2. Aggie continued to get every ball back and force Serena into error. But at 30-30, Serena was not having it and came forward after a long rally to take the ball out of the air for the winner. Unfortunately for Aggie, she could not find her first service and her second service was duly punished as Returnerena, who had been absent most of the championships, broke.

All Serena had to do now was click into Serverena again and serve her way through to the trophy. She did that to lead 4-2.

Aggie continued to play her game to frustrate Serena, saving two break points, but could not save the third as Serena pulled off the drop shot to break, raising her fist to her box.

Serena served out for the match but the aces did not flow straight off the racket. Somewhat tentative she netted a smash at 15-0 but then the ace came, followed by a service winner, and a backhand winner down the line and Serena yelled, fell on her back, covered her face before getting up and jogging to the net where she clasped hands with a smiling Aggie at the net.

Serena raised her arms to the crowd and, applauded by the audience which included the likes of Navratilova and old-foe Hingis, Serena made her way up to the players box where she hugged her team, most notably her sister Venus whose haul of five Wimbledon titles she had equalled by winning a match that though not the classic the game needed was more than worthy of satisfying the most ardent of tennis fans and perhaps drawing in a couple more. And for those who like some emotion from their sporting heroes there were some tears in both of the presentation speeches that would have had even the most objective of viewers wiping their eyes.

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Murray moves into final to face Federer

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The men’s semis have been played and won and neutral tennis fans the world over will sigh in relief that another Nole-Rafa grind-fest slam final does not await them but instead they will be served up an intriguing contest between perhaps the Greatest player of all time and the best player never to have won a major title.

Andy Murray is that player. Three finals he has made but he has not even won a set in any of them. Now he has another chance to claim one of the games major prizes and a prize that many a tennis pundit believe he is MORE than good enough to win.

In his seventh major semi-final, Mandy played as good a first couple of sets as he ever has in a major match to take a two set to love lead over Tsonga in the Wimbledon semi-finals. In a battle of last year’s losing finalists, it looked as if Mandy might fly through drama-free to his first Wimbledon final. But, of course, that was never going to happen. Not at Wimbledon with the home fans in the stadium and on ‘Henman hill’, now titled ‘Murray Mountain’, and all the millions of viewers watching at home. And not when a British man has not reached the Wimbledon final for 76 years. Anything less than a dramatic match with the hamminess and overwriting of a Dynasty episode would not have done justice to this Mandy match.

And the players delivered the episode we drama queens, and they, the players, too, had been longing for. After a medical time Out at the beginning of the third set, Tsonga had more spring in his step, flew to the net and volleyed, at times sublimely, and took the Match to Murray, his reward being the third set. A sudden air of panic gripped Murray and the fans. It had been too good to be true. Murray was coasting. Now he was tighter. He was back to his passive self. He was waiting for Tsonga to implode. Worse, Tsonga, who had come back against Roger Federer of all champions from two sets to love down the year previous, was not in implode mode and was now playing the kind of attacking tennis he is capable of, the kind of tennis that can take you to a Wimbledon final.

The fourth set was one of the most exciting of the past two weeks as Tsonga and Murray battled it out. Mandy broke early, taking advantage of his opponent’s letdown, but Tsonga, inspired and as desperate as Murray for a shot at the final, broke back, ripping a return on break point. Luckily for Murray that as the match got deeper into the fourth the free swinging Tsonga could not get a return in and Mandy’s second floating serves went unpunished. And fortunately for Mandy, though Tsonga was hitting some winning volleys, he was netting as many as he sent low into the court.

Play went with serve until 5-6 with Tsonga serving. Tsonga, playing with the sun in his eyes, hit two errors, won a point on a smash and then somewhat predictably, netted a volley. On breakpoint, Mandy hit a fierce return that seemed to catch the line. Murray looked up at the sky in disbelief. Finally! Tsonga challended the call and the two men stood at the net as they waited for Hawkeye to deliver its verdict. In. The crowd erupted, the players embraced and a tearful Andy Murray sat in his chair and stared up to the heavens, no doubt thanking the Tennis Gods for finally seeing himn through to the final and wondering how the hell he was going to beat Six time champion Roger Federer in the final. We all know he can beat Roger, he leads their head to head 8-7, but Roger in major finals is a different beast and Mandy has already failed twice to fell him in the final match of a major. Still, the tennis Gods, having removed Nadal from his half, calling never-before-seen foot faults on his big serving opponents, calling curfews that work in his favor, tiring out his opponents in long fifth sets before they meet him, seem to be in favor of a Mandy victory on the grass. But standing before them is another God: The tennis God known as Federer.

Yes, waiting for Andy in the final is none other than a resurgent Roger Federer. True, Roger, if he wins the title, will be number one again and has been anything but quiet on the ATP tour winning titles left right and center, but Major wise, it has been a quiet year with this final appearance his first since Roland Garros 2011.

The Wimbledon King Roger Federer out-served and outhit Novak Djokovic, the man who has been sitting on the throne the last year, to reach his first Wimbledon final since 2009.

Federer, who claimed that the finals had just not been the same without him, not only gave himself the opportunity to extend his record haul of major titles but also earned himself the chance to take the throne again and to claim the record for weeks at number one currently held by Pete Sampras.

The semi-final got off to a pacy start as both men split the first two sets within fifty two minutes. Things slowed down in the third set as in the fifth game Federer pushed for a break.
Djokovic could not find his first serve and Federer had his forehand firing, Fed broke and held his next two serves to take the set.

In the fourth set, there was no letdown for Federer and there were points that were worthy of a major final let alone a major semi with Fed hitting all the shots in the book: forehands down the line, inside out forehands, backhand slice, backhand top spin, volleys, smashes. We saw, once more, how the grass compliments his natural all court game. This game, when in full flow and when Federer takes risks with it, has proved over the years to be too much for other players, and though it has been underwhelming the last few years, it was well and truly overwhelming for Novak yesterday. Fed frontran as good as he ever has and Novak’s shot erred out more than in and all the running in the world from the Serbian was not going to be enough to stop the Great man in his tracks. At 5-3, Federer served for the match and on match point fired down a service winner that put him into the final and the opportunity to claim his throne and wear his crown once more on the grassy top of Mount Olympos.

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Aggie to square off against Serena in first Major final

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Photo courtesy of ivies.pinger.pl

The Wimbledon center court crowd were treated to two superb performances from the upcoming women’s finalists, strong competition from their vanquished opponents and two matches that were almost mirror opposites regarding pace and style.

WTA tour fan favorite, Aggie Radwanska, came back from 1-3 down in the first set against Angie Kerber, the recent Eastbourne runner-up, to win the next five games and take a one set to love lead in her first major semi-final.

Playing coolly and calmly as you like, as if she had played major semi after semi throughout her career, Aggie served out for the first set confidently, moving forward whenever the opportunity arose and getting her first serve in, even sealing her set point with an ace out wide. Playing better than she ever has on the surface, the former Eastbourne champion sent a message out to whoever would be her final opponent that she could play on grass and would not be a bye in the final as some critics have suggested.

In the second set, serve was held until 2-2 when a Kerber unforced error gave Aggie a break point. In the next point, Kerber had no answer for Aggie’s depth and netted a forehand of a ball that landed at her feet on the baseline to hand Aggie the break.

With her back up against the wall, Kerber went up a gear and began to hit with more pace and aggression. However Aggie’s defense proved impenetrable as she ran down every ball getting her racket on all of them and sending them back for winners. In a hotly contested game, one terrific rally at game point Aggie saw both players tearing around the court with both players even moonballing to stay in the rally. As Aggie’s backhand down the line went out, Kerber raised her arms aloft as if to celebrate not being undone again by the Polish woman’s all court prowess. In the next point Kerber’s pace on her forehands were too much for Aggie earning Kerber a break back point and a chance to get back into the match. Aggie was not to buckle under the pressure and she saved the break point with a deep second serve to Kerber’s body. Continuing to play with confidence, Aggie moved forward on the next point and took the ball out of the air to put away the forehand. On game point, Aggie served out wide and repeatedly hit rally shots to Kerber’s forehand in the middle of the court which led a frustrated Kerber, who could not hit the winner she so wanted and needed, netting a forehand to hand Aggie the game.

In the next game, Aggie piled on the pressure to take it to deuce but a rare error as she came into the mid court saw Kerber gain advantage point which she won with a winning forehand. It was clear that Kerber was not going to fold and Aggie would have to hold serve to move closer to her first major final; a feat she achieved smoothly, serving her next game out to 15. Kerber did not go away though and continued to give a good account of herself, holding easily.

Thus it was the moment of truth for Aggie. Could she keep serving with clever placement and variety and serve her way into the Wimbledon final?

A beautiful opening rally where Aggie asked Kerber’s forehand and backhand question after question only for Kerber’s backhand to finally answer with an adamant yes as the German struck a cross court winner meant it was not going to be easy.But Aggie won the next point by forcing the issue as she moved in. A fluffed return from Kerber followed by a missed forehand from the German and Aggie was match point up. Another error of the backhand from Kerber as Aggie moved in and Aggie was into her first major final.

In a year which has seen Aggie climb to number three in the world(and she will be either 1 or 2 depending on the final result), win Premier titles in Beijing and Miami, Aggie’s first appearance in a major semi-final and now a final were due.

Before the tournament she had been criticised for her ‘pushing’ game and inabilty to beat the very best of the game but she certainly played this match aggressively and has adapted to the grass court well. Neither did she freeze on the big stage. Hardly any errors came off of her racket and it was a performance that bodes well for her chances in the final.

In the final she will meet four time champion Serena Williams who played Vika Azarenka in Serena’s second consecutive contest against one of the new Queens on the block. Once again, Serena proved that though she may not be in her prime, she is still the very best competitor on the big stage. Though Serena’s movement and accuracy may have been compromised by age, her increased years have only served to make her tougher than anyone else in the women’s game as when she knuckles down and serves like she has been, then on grass only the greatest players are going to beat her.

The first set saw a supremely focused Serena serve expertly, as she had done throughout the tournament, with power and precision to take it 6-3.

The level of Serena dropped a little and Vika’s rose as the crowd were treated to a more competitive second set where both women struck the hell out of the ball and Serena roared come on as she broke in the third game of the second set firing a winning return and then fought off a challenge from the Belorussian to hold her serve. In the next Serena service game she saved a break point with an ace. However a backhand hit on the rise mid court was hit out by the American and the break point was won by Azarenka as Serena shanked a backhand off a return from Vika that landed at her feet.
Serena got another chance to break right back though but she netted the forehand return. She got another chance after a hard hitting rally where the two competitors went toe to toe until an error from Vika ended the point. But a forehand error from Serena saw them back at deuce. This time it was Vika whose serve sorted her out as she won the next two points to lead 4-3.

Vika’s serve proved to be as sturdy as Serena’s as the two of them held serve to contest a tiebreak. On match point Serena, she brings Vika in with a drop shot but the subsequent lob was out. 6-6. A netted backhand from Vika and 7-6 with Serena to serve. Serena takes her time. She serves a record breaking 24th ace then pumps her fist, keels over and looks to her box before jumping in the air and waving her arms to the crowd.

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Revved up Murray motors on into the semis

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David Ferrer, playing in his first Wimbledon quarter-final, was leading Andy Murray (Mandy), making his fourth consecutive appearance at this stage of the tournament, by a set and a break and about to serve for a commanding two sets to love lead.

And it was a lead that few had predicted. True, Ferrer had got the better of Mandy at the same stage of the French Open four weeks ago but that was on clay, and yes, their head to head is even at 5-5, but four of those Ferrer victories had come on Clay while Andy Murray, the superior fast court player, had won all his matches on hard courts. And while the center court is a little slower in the second week, it is still grass and rewards those with the skills to play on this dying surface.

Mandy was the heavy favorite on a surface that rewards his slice and his variety of shot. But Mandy had come out playing his passive pushing worst and Ferrer had come out the more aggressive, ripping into Mandy’s second serve and relentlessly running down every ball.

Then, serving for the set, Ferrer did what Mandy had been pushing for. He played a nervous game and dropped his serve. Ferrer’s mind had done what Mandy had failed to do, beaten him. Ferrer, though bruised, did not buckle completely. The two found themselves in another tiebreak with Murray coming back from a mini break down and finishing the tiebreak with a forehand winner in the middle of the court and a service winner to take the set and then rode the momentum to win the third set 6-4 to grab a two set to one lead.

Seemingly comfortably ahead, Mandy, as he is wont to do when frontrunning, began to play better more attacking tennis, saving break points at 3-4 15-40 with a backhand volley and then shot down a 131mph serve out wide which he followed in to volley the floater. The fans cheered to see him playing so proactively, all too aware, as Andy is too, that only this kind of play is going to see him lift the title.

In the fourth set break, Mandy took charge, hitting a backhand down the line winner, moving forward to put pressure on Ferrer who netted the passing shot, hitting a forehand down the line winner and pounding down three aces to hit his way through to a semi-final where he will play the aggressive and powerful Tsonga against whom he has a 5-1 head to head lead. Nevertheless he needs to assert himself from the beginning against an in-form opponent who if he has an ‘on’ day could blow Mandy away. Mandy has to move forward and serve well, staying close to Tsonga who will serve big and come in, and then take his chances on the return if he is to have any chance of breaking his Wimbledon semi-final duck.

In the other semis, Federer and Novak thrashed Youhzny and Mayer respectively while Tsonga squeezed past Kohlschreiber in four on a day that did little to support Gilles Simon’s comment earlier this tournament that the women did not deserve equal prize money.

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