Serena Williams triumphs on Groundhog Day
Centre Court crowd grow tired of American sisters' domination as world No 1 blows away Russian to retain crown
Welcome to the Punxsutawney Open. Another Groundhog Day on the central sward here at SW19. On Friday it was the "Oohs" and "Aahs" and ultimate anguish of a semi-final defeat for a Briton in what is still called officially the gentlemen's singles, the sixth in 13 years.
Saturday afternoon it was groans of disappointment at the predictable formality of yet another routine victory for a Williams sister in the final of the ladies' competition.
Up in the Royal Box, Dame Shirley Bassey must have been tempted to break into song. It was all just a little bit of history repeating. For the ninth time in 11 years, the Venus Rosewater Dish was hoisted by a Williams, Serena dispatching the No 21 seed Vera Znonareva of Russia 6-3 6-2 in just 66 minutes. They might as well rename the thing the Venus and Serena Dish. "Can I say my thank yous?" Serena asked, with gleaming trophy in hand, interrupting a Sue Barker question, before extending her gratitude to a list of figures stretching from Jehovah to her watching sister, to whom she offered extra thanks for the loan of a lucky necklace.
There was also a "Hey, Billie, I got you!" for the benefit of Billie Jean King, whom the younger Williams sister surpassed yesterday with Grand Slam singles title number 13. It was number four at Wimbledon, putting the 28-year-old just the one down here on her 30-year-old sister.
The denizens of the Centre Court did not exactly yawn and slam down their fists in exasperated fury on their clock radios, in the style of Bill Murray, but the prevailing atmosphere was muted from the off and the press box half-empty by the start of the second set. As with the lingering British failure in the men's competition, familiarity with the wins of the Williams sisters has bred a discernible degree of contempt.
One can only wonder whether it was like this way back in the 1880s when the Renshaw twins from Warwickshire, William and Ernest, enjoyed a near-monopoly on the men's singles. Between them, they won it eight times in nine years, William racking up seven titles, a record tally he shares with Pete Sampras. They stunned the crowds and nailed the opposition with their innovation of the overhead serve. "The Renshaw Smash," it was called.
It might have been a different story yesterday had the serving been of an underarm variety. As it was, the "Williams Wallop" was far too emphatic for Zvonareva. The poor Muscovite, who at 25 was appearing in her first Grand Slam final, was blitzed by a 114mph ace on the second point of the afternoon. There was much more of that to come. There were 10 Williams aces in all, making it 90 for the tournament, 18 more than the record she set last year.
"It's not only a shot weapon," Zvonareva said afterwards of the most potent piece of armoury in the women's game. "It's also like a mental weapon. She's so confident in it that she knows she can take more risks. She can also go for more on returns."
There was much more than the mighty Wallop to admire in Williams' game, though. Or to fear, if you were unfortunate enough to be on the other side of the net. There were whipped backhands of sheer wickedness and some blistering forehands, such as the stunning passing shot with which Williams broke the serve of her nominal rival for the first time, in the eighth game of the opening set. Zvonareva dropped to her knees at the net in utter despair.
She looked a broken woman in every respect, and thus it proved. Williams wrapped up the first set 6-3, and then broke again in the opening game of the second set.
"Come on our Vera," someone shouted in broad Lancastrian, rather like Jack Duckworth urging his Missus to improve her service at the bar of the Rovers Return. Zvonareva was to return later in the day for the ladies' doubles final but there was to be no coming back for her in the face of the relentless Williams barrage.
With an overhead smash at the net, the Russian was put out of her misery. Serena had gone through the competition in complete serenity, without dropping a single set. "I honestly didn't think I was playing my best," she reflected. "I felt like my strokes were off, especially in the first week." It was a scary thought for the rest of the women's game at the end of another Groundhog Day at The All England Club.
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