American Serena Williams lunges to make a return during her victory over… (John MacDougall / AFP/Getty…)
LONDON — The current king and queen of tennis were up bright and early here Wednesday. No leisurely breakfast, no lingering over a second cup of coffee.
Roger Federer was out on Court 1, Serena Williams on Centre Court. What an idea. Olympic tennis at Wimbledon.
It was noon — that's the crack of dawn for marquee tennis players — and the fans who had taken a second mortgage on their homes to purchase tickets were scurrying to seats so they wouldn't miss the day's big show.
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You almost never see this sort of clashing star power in major tennis events, especially in a matinee. But this was a necessity, not a boneheaded scheduling error. The superstars were scheduled to play doubles later in the day, so they had to get the singles duty out of the way early. Doubles are yet another little wrinkle of Olympic tennis. Cherished medals are at stake here. There's nothing of the sort in the majors, where the top players almost never expend extra energy for doubles.
It turned out the early start for doubles, to be played with Serena's sister, Venus, was called off later in the afternoon because daylight was running out. Before that happened, Venus, who won Olympic gold in singles in Sydney, was knocked out of the tournament by Angelique Kerber of Germany in a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) crusher.
Still, the early hour was kind to Federer and Serena Williams, not to mention the fans who beat the traffic. Just over three weeks ago, they won their respective men's and women's Wimbledon titles on these hallowed grounds and seem to be still feeling right at home.
Williams was especially impressive, and she said afterward, "I think I played better today, and even in my second round, than any match I played at Wimbledon."
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Her opponent was Russia's Vera Zvonareva, certainly no slouch. Zvonareva once was ranked No. 2 in the world, has made it to two major finals and was a bronze medalist in Beijing. That being said, she was also putty in Williams' hands Wednesday.
Williams hit 12 aces, 32 winners and never lost a point on her second serve. She won, 6-1, 6-0. Many of her first serves were in the 112- to 115-mph category, and she hit four aces in one game.
"I've been trying to do that at least once in every tournament," she said.
Zvonareva, as good a player as she is, is also known for coming unglued under stress. She once tore off strips of tape from her knees in the middle of a U.S. Open match and asked the chair umpire for scissors. Wisely, the umpire declined.
Zvonareva began to slam her racket to the ground in disgust in the second set Wednesday and received a warning from the chair. After that, she sat in her chair during breaks with a towel covering her head, as if making an early request for the witness protection program.
Sitting in an international press row, watching Williams destroy her opponent with huge serves and ground strokes, created an interesting dynamic. The word "wow" translates pretty easily in all languages.
If Williams' victory was a 51-minute bludgeoning, Federer's was more a quiet dissection. He beat Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, 7-5, 6-3, and if that looks like a close match, it wasn't.
Like Williams, Federer never lost a point on his second serve, all 19 of them. He made 23 winners and forced 28 errors from Istomin. His match was delayed at 5-5 of the first set by rain — avoiding some of the overlap of the dueling marquee matches. Any fans who were able to move from one court to the next saw Federer do virtually what he wanted at will. In one game, he won by making a winner with a drop shot and followed that on the next point with a perfect topspin lob.
Federer changes speeds more often than Jered Weaver. Watching him is like watching somebody put together the pieces of a fine watch. It must be a Swiss thing.
Poor Istomin didn't know whether he was coming or going, but in the end, he was gone.
Williams and Federer are in the quarterfinals. If Wednesday is any indication, they will both be in the finals. There, they will seek an identical tennis legacy. With victories, each would have won every major tennis title at least once — the Australian, French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open — plus Olympic gold medals in singles and doubles. Nobody else has done that.
To date, they have won 31 Grand Slam event singles titles, Federer a men's record 17, Williams 14. Federer has won seven times on Wimbledon's grass, Williams five.
History awaits, and after Wednesday, it appears the people doing the record books should buy fresh ink.