Williams holds all the aces in quest for crown number four

Serena Williams will contest her sixth Wimbledon singles final tomorrow, her third in as many years, after she juddered rather than thundered through her semi-final against the unseeded Czech Petra Kvitova, winning 7-6, 6-2. The defending champion will meet Vera Zvonareva of Russia, who will have to be on her mettle. Williams has so far unleashed 80 aces, the highest number ever recorded by a woman at Wimbledon, obliterating her own previous record of 72, set here last year.

Williams only occasionally reached her towering best in front of a capacity Centre Court crowd, however. The left-handed Kvitova – at 20 the youngest of the four semi-finalists, and at 6ft also the tallest – played wonderfully at first, using her improbably long legs to maximum effect. She covered the distance from baseline to net in just a few giant strides, and volleyed brilliantly. If she was nervous in her first Grand Slam semi-final, she showed no sign. Nor was she obviously intimidated by her formidable opponent, breaking the powerful Williams serve, and eliciting some loud squeals of Williams frustration, to lead 3-2.

But the top seed did not get where she is today – or more aptly, where she will be tomorrow – by surrendering the momentum. She duly broke back to level the proceedings at 4-4, and the faint whiff of an upset was soon carried away on the ever-quickening Wimbledon breeze. She won the first-set tie-break 7-5, and thereafter was rarely troubled.

Tomorrow, Williams will not lack for motivation as she attempts to win her fourth singles title here, and her 13th overall in Grand Slams. However, there might have been a marginally greater incentive were her opponent the 22-year-old Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, audacious quarter-final conqueror of her big sister Venus. For half an hour against Zvonareva, in the first of the afternoon's two semi-finals on Centre Court, the world No 82 looked as though she might give Serena the chance to avenge the stain on the family escutcheon, and indeed herself the chance to stain it further, by knocking out both sisters. Again showing no respect for the rankings, the graceful Pironkova, who had never before advanced beyond the second round of a Grand Slam event, quickly began to stretch Zvonareva, ranked 21st in the world, with some unerring baseline play and a nice line in disguised drop shots. She won the first set 6-3.

She won the support of the Centre Court crowd, too, largely because of her underdog status, but also, one felt, because she hits the ball without any accompanying grunt, shriek or moan. The Wimbledon crowds have got used to the vocal sound effects this past decade or so, but it is still pleasing to find a woman who does not use her larynx to strike the ball. Zvonareva does, but apart from that their match almost evoked the era of Evonne Goolagong, Chris Evert and our own Sue Barker, before a new breed of female tennis players came along, seemingly descended from a family of redwoods on their father's side, and a family of juggernauts on their mother's. Reed-slim and wearing matching visors, the two women might almost have been contesting the final of a genteel club championship somewhere in the Home Counties, but of course for their nationalities, and the all-round excellence of their play.

That excellence began to diminish on Pironkova's side of the net, as Zvonareva started to find her range. The 25-year-old Russian might be the second lowest-ranked woman in a Wimbledon final since computer rankings were introduced 35 years ago (Venus Williams was No 31 in the world when she won here in 2007), but 10 titles and more than $7m in career prize money testify to a fiercely competitive spirit. She won the second set with comparative ease, broke her opponent's opening service game in the final set, and from then on the result was never in much doubt.

Zvonareva enters the final knowing that she has won only one of her six encounters, stretching back to 2002, with Williams. She once took the first set in the French Open, but in the rest of the match secured only a single game. For that reason, and many others, the prevailing wind is very much behind the champion. But off court if not on yesterday, the Russian was making all the right noises. "I will have to stay aggressive no matter what, and not let her dominate," she said. "Because when Serena dominates, she's very difficult to play." And what about that serve, with which Williams has won 95 per cent of her service games? "I think if you can find the timing you can return it. But there will be moments where she doesn't make a first serve. I haven't seen anyone make 100 per cent of first serves. So then you will just have to take your chances."

As for Williams, she was asked afterwards what she considered to be the biggest obstacle to her winning a fourth Wimbledon title. "Just putting too much pressure on myself, I think. On paper it looks like I should win. But Vera, I've played her several times, she's beaten some good people. Her last two matches she's been down a set, so she's obviously a fighter."

According to the bookmakers, the final represents a fight too far. Williams is 7-1 on; Zvonareva 11-2.

* Justine Henin will miss the US Open after revealing yesterday that she had suffered a partial ligament fracture in her right elbow when she fell in her fourth-round defeat to Kim Clijsters.

Draw details, weather & TV

Men's semi-final draw

(12) T Berdych (Czech Republic) v (3) N Djokovic (Serbia)

(4) A Murray (GB) v (2) R Nadal (Spain)

Final Sunday, 2pm, BBC1

Women's semi-final results

(1) S Williams (US) bt P Kvitova (Czech Republic) 7-6 6-2

(21) V Zvonareva (Russia) bt T Pironkova (Bulgaria) 3-6 6-3 6-2

Final S Williams v Zvonareva, tomorrow, 2pm, BBC1

Today's weather

Warm but overcast, with increasing chance of light rain showers later in the afternoon. Maximum temperature: 27C

TV

BBC1 1.45-6pm

BBC2 12.30-3.25pm, 5.50-8pm

BBCHD 12.30-8pm

Further coverage on BBCi

Highlights BBC2 8-9pm

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week