We should have known Serena Williams’ routine, straight-sets win over older sister Venus at Wimbledon was an anomaly for tennis’ leading woman.
Tuesday in the quarterfinals, Williams was back in the trenches in another battle, the type that’s been a mainstay in many of her grand slam matches in 2015.
But as she did at the Australian Open, French Open and last week at the All England Club, the world No. 1 prevailed to move within two matches of achieving the “Serena Slam” for the second time in her record-breaking career.
Williams ousted former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 3-6 6-2 6-3 to set up a semifinal showdown with longtime rival Maria Sharapova.
Her final numbers were outstanding – 46 winners and a mere 12 unforced errors – and far from the ragged display she put in when two points away from defeat Friday against Heather Watson.
“It was a high-quality match,” Azarenka told reporters. “I can’t say I went out there and didn’t play well. We just saw today why Serena is No. 1.”
Azarenka must have been especially annoyed at again seeing the American across the net. She was one of those on the receiving end of a Williams rally at Roland Garros, watching a set and break lead evaporate before getting what she felt was a “bull s**t” call deep in the second set.
Weeks earlier, outside the grand slams at the Madrid Open, Azarenka wasted three match points against her off-court friend.
The way Williams served against Azarenka – tallying 17 aces – it’s difficult to envisage anyone preventing the 33-year-old from completing her Wimbledon job and grabbing a 21st grand slam title.
Although Serena and Sharapova are arguably the most famous active female athletes in the world, their rivalry is highly lopsided. Williams has won 16 matches in a row, last tasting defeat in 2004 at the year-end championships.
Williams beat Sharapova 6-3 7-6 (7-5) when they met most recently in the Australian Open final in January.
“I love playing Maria,” said Williams. “I think she brings out the best in me. I think I bring out the best in her. I thought we had a wonderful final in Australia. It was very entertaining. She played really well.”
Though Williams’ Center Court affair with Azarenka lacked the controversy of their duel in Paris, ill temper did feature on the main arena during Sharapova’s 6-3 6-7 (3-7) 6-2 win over another U.S. player, CoCo Vandeweghe.
Sharapova’s behavior drew the ire of the first-time grand slam quarterfinalist – and grunts weren’t the issue. The Russian was accused of trying to distract her younger opponent when the 23-year-old served.
Much of Vandeweghe’s post-match press conference centered on her displeasure with Sharapova’s antics. She complained to chair umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore but said she didn’t hear the official say anything to the five-time grand slam winner.
“What I experienced, what I felt from her moving around in between my serving motion was not, I don’t think, sportsmanlike, in my opinion,” Vandeweghe, whose uncle is former NBA star Kiki Vandeweghe, told reporters. “I try to play as fair as I can.
“When I felt like it wasn’t being reciprocated, that’s when I spoke with the umpire for her to deal with.”
Sharapova was not concerned when told of the 47th-ranked Vandeweghe’s views at her press conference.
“I mean, it is what it is,” said Sharapova. “What she said, I’m not going to argue against her words.”
And besides, of more concern to Sharapova is finding a way to defeat Williams.
She was able to do so at Wimbledon in the 2004 Wimbledon final, becoming a household name as a 17-year-old with her first slam success.
“Definitely no secrets between each other’s games,” Sharapova said.
However, the 28-year-old will need to improve a serve which has never been the same since career-threatening shoulder surgery.
She delivered 10 double faults against Vandeweghe, and failed to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set.
“I made it more difficult for myself, but I’m still here,” Sharapova said.
Williams began to show top form in the second set against Azarenka and broke for 4-2 with a fine backhand passing shot that forced the Belorussian into a volley error.
What happened in the ensuing game might have been the turning point.
Holding two straight break points to get back on serve, Azarenka missed the first when Williams was stranded with most of the court open. Her forehand down the line sailed long.
As the tussle developed, Williams’ fist pumps of anguish turned into celebratory exclamation marks.
Azarenka manufactured seven break points in the first two sets, but the two-time Australian Open champion had one in the decider – in the final game. Williams, though, saved it with the last of her nine aces in the third and the pair hugged at the net seconds later.
“I think we put on a great show together,” Azarenka, seeded 23rd after a foot injury sidelined her for a large chunk of 2014, said.
Thursday’s other semifinal will pit rejuvenated 2012 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska against Garbine Muguruza, who sent Williams packing from the 2014 French Open.
On Court One, baseline-basher Muguruza beat Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky 7-5 6-3 to become the first Spanish woman to make the semifinals at Wimbledon since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1997.
Radwanska followed with a 7-6 (7-3) 3-6 6-3 win against 2015 Australian Open semifinalist Madison Keys, like Muguruza one of the younger guard. Slumping for much of 2015, Radwanska has found form.
But Williams is the substantial favorite to lift the Venus Rosewater dish.