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TENNIS / WIMBLEDON

The four tops play Wimbledon

Form holds as the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 seeded women reach semifinals, with No. 2 Serena Williams and No. 3 Venus Williams still on course to meet again in final.

July 01, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — In a women's game supposedly savaged by anarchy, ailing as a hard-to-market hodgepodge with the No. 1 ranking passed around like a relay baton since Justine Henin retired in May 2008, well, look here.

Somehow, after the ruthless process of a Grand Slam with all the masses who can blast tennis balls and grunt like wounded hyenas and beat the stuffing out of most everybody, Wimbledon has churned out semifinalists with seedings Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Why, it's a pillar of form.

Thursday will present No. 3 Venus Williams, the two-time defending champion and five-time champion who has looked so out-of-this-world here that she said of her quarterfinal Tuesday against Agnieszka Radwanska, "You know, that first set for me was really almost perfect."

It will march out No. 2 Serena Williams, a two-time champion whose game against No. 8 Victoria Azarenka rose to such divine heights (26 winners, seven unforced errors) that the ambitious Azarenka sighed, "She really showed the unbeatable Serena today, I guess."

There'll be that muffled No. 1 Dinara Safina, which will mean possibly another sighting of the invisible demons that circle in her head, barking such doubt that she served 15 double faults in her quarterfinal and said, "Fifteen? I thought it was much more."

And it will showcase No. 4 Elena Dementieva, so quiet here it seems she just turned up off a double-decker bus, when her berth actually marks the persistence of a heady 12 months packed with four Grand Slam semifinal berths and one Olympic gold medal.

What an orderly sport, with three semifinalists who haven't lost a set and the other the No. 1 player in the world who can beat most anyone including herself. So Venus Williams will play Safina, Serena will play Dementieva, and an all-Williams final or an all-Russian final could ensue.

"Can we just play two finals instead?" Dementieva asked.

She might have a worthy plea, because everybody and the strawberry vendors expect another Williams-Williams final, which would become the fourth of the decade and a reprise of 2008. The way Venus and Serena played Tuesday had crowds on separate courts murmuring and pundits quibbling about which woman played more toweringly.

Even if the theme of Venus in her grass paradise has congealed to familiarity the last two years, the 6-1, 6-2 demolition of the excellent No. 14 Radwanska accessed some tier above even the usual Venus. It had the 16 of 18 first-set service points, the 29 winners to her Polish opponent's six, the comment by the 20-year-old Radwanska that "if she will play like this, she will make it one more time this tournament."

Count it up: 19 consecutive wins, 32 consecutive sets won, longest streak here since Martina Navratilova won 40 from 1982 to 1985. "I do have strategy," Venus reminded after the show of power. "Maybe it doesn't look like it, but I do. I think that's my secret weapon, that it doesn't look like I'm thinking, but I am."

Then Serena took the court opposite the same wildly promising 19-year-old Azarenka who beat Serena in Miami in April, and Serena clearly had not liked that. Getting very royal on the Belorussian, she rammed in nine aces to zero for Azarenka and soared even with 46% first-serving, later saying, "We definitely upped our level of game today."

After winning, 6-2, 6-3, she seemed satisfied as seldom she does, and if her 29-2 record in the last five Grand Slams bolsters her assertion that she's better now than when she won the Serena Slam in 2002-03, it's also just another reason people sometimes need reminding that Safina technically holds down that No. 1 seeding.

Never beyond a Wimbledon third round before, Safina has fought through lost first sets in the last two rounds against Amelie Mauresmo and Sabine Lisicki, and reckons, "It's just my brain sometimes doesn't do the things that I have to do."

Her double faults against Lisicki on Tuesday reached such heights that she threw in one on a set point against her and estimated the total at "250," and she said, "Sometimes I don't even know what I'm doing with my serve."

Yet she clambered through the doubt to win, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1, and has turned up as a semifinalist (or better) in all four Slams, and five of the last six, then gave herself a "50-50" shot against Venus. If listeners found that sort of loopy, well, it's the kind of thing No. 1 players say in such a formful sport.

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chuck.culpepper@yahoo.com

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