Serena ready to tame underdog and keep one title in the family

There is just no pleasing some people. They complain that women's tennis has stagnated over the decade during which a couple of dilettante sisters from Los Angeles have made this place their own.

Then, when you get a Grand Slam final like the one contested between Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur in Paris last month, they complain that variety only means mediocrity. Well, this time nobody should have any complaints.

A gratifying fortnight for romantics is consummated by the disarming appearance in her first Grand Slam final of Vera Zvonareva. And waiting for her in the final of the ladies' singles this afternoon is the defending champion, Serena Williams, who has won a dozen of her 15 Grand Slam finals and has yet to drop a single set. Whatever happens, we are going to have a worthy winner.

Williams has almost seemed fortified, in her will and her serving, by the tame surrender of her sister, Venus, in the quarter-finals – a shock compounded by their failure together at the same stage of the doubles. Inevitably that has prompted questions about the longevity of their competitive fires, but Serena insisted yesterday that hers burn as bright as ever at 28.

Having been seeded to meet Venus for a third consecutive year, she regrets that it did not come to pass. "I would almost rather play her," she said. "Because at least I know for certain one of us is going to win something. Now it's a 50-50 chance. I didn't realise how good a feeling that was. But no matter if I'd be playing her in the finals or not, I would still feel really into it, and really like I want to do this."

It must be said that not every match between the siblings here has animated the fans in quite the same way. Equally, mindful of Zvonareva's history of emotional fragility, they will want the underdog to make a rather better fist of things than the bookmakers are anticipating. At 25, however, the days of racket smashing and sobbing seem to be over. "Tennis is an emotional sport," Zvonareva said. "If you don't have emotions, you will never be able to win. It doesn't matter what you show. It's more important what you have in there – if you believe in yourself, or you don't; if you know what to tell yourself, or you don't. I think with experience, and maturity, I have learnt a lot about myself – know where I have to pump myself up, where I have to calm myself down."

Zvonareva has won only one of their six previous encounters, on a hard court in Cincinnati four years ago, and they have yet to meet on grass. Her run here came out of the blue. Williams, meanwhile, admits that she has never served better. She has already detonated a record 80 aces in the tournament and won almost 90 per cent of points when her first serve has been good. But she rejects any fear of complacency. "I never, ever get over-confident," she insisted. "I did once, a long time ago, against Monica Seles in LA. I was over-confident and ended up losing. It's important not to do that."

Zvonareva, equally, is entitled to be positive. It was her partnership with Elena Vesnina that thwarted the sisters on Wednesday. The Russian, who resumes a course in international relations in September, has been ranked as high as No 5 in her time and is climbing back up the rankings, now at No 21. "It's very difficult to say why now, and not two years ago," she mused. "I'm just trying to live in the moment. Serena is one of the greatest champions. It's not going to be easy. But you know, I'm going to go out there and try my best."

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