Conquerors of the Williams sisters bow out as Kvitova stakes claim

Even when they are no longer here, the Williams sisters cast a long shadow. Yesterday, both the women who had the temerity to send them home found they had inadequate reserves to deal with their next opponents.

Just like Marion Bartoli, Tsvetana Pironkova was confined in her quarter-final to salvaging dignity with an unexpected fightback from the brink in the second set. But she, too, had nothing left to give in the decider and was ultimately brushed aside by the No 8 seed, Petra Kvitova, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2.

Neither player had previously dropped a set in the tournament, but that seemed to be all they had in common as Kvitova hurtled into an early lead. Having been made to wait for three and a half hours by rain, the left-hander once again looked in a tearing hurry. Only one of her previous matches had taken as many as 65 minutes, and she broke Pironkova to love in the very first game with a series of violent forehands. She was soon 5-1 up and, though ceding one of her breaks, she had wrapped up the first set in 30 minutes.

To her credit, Pironkova regrouped in the second set and exploited a temporary loss in her intimidating opponent's rhythm to break in the fifth game. Kvitova responded impressively, winning her next service game to love and then proceeding to level, but still contrived to lose a 4-1 lead in the tie-break. Once again, however, she did not lose track of her underlying momentum.

Both players had made the last four last year, and Pironkova had got back on a roll after arriving with just four matches to her name in 2010. But she faltered again on break point in the first game of the deciding set, serving a double-fault, and Kvitova – vexed not to have polished off the job previously – overpowered her thereafter, sealing the issue with her ninth ace in 121 minutes. She had hit 54 winners, against just 10 from her opponent.

Kvitova has gained in composure and belief since meeting Serena Williams in the semi-final last year. Standing between her and the final is a woman appearing in the last four of a Grand Slam for the first time, Victoria Azarenka.

The Belarusian beat Tamira Paszek 6-3, 6-1 in a match transferred to Centre Court from Court One when the weather closed in after just one game. Azarenka had a couple of wobbles after opening up a 5-1 lead in the opening set, but really found her feet in the second with some voracious court coverage. At 21, she is a contemporary of both Kvitova and Sabine Lisicki. Perhaps the Williams sisters' shadow is only so long because the sun is finally setting.

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