Serena aces her final test, wins fourth Wimbledon
LONDON — Whatever might have stopped Serena Williams yesterday — be it, say, a court order, a pack of wolves, perhaps the threat of being locked in a cabin with only Kevin Costner DVDs and Rush Limbaugh podcasts? — Vera Zvonareva sure didn’t have it.
With her bountiful and splendid tools all polished and in full working order, including an intimidating serve that brought her tournament record to 89 aces, Williams became the queen of Wimbledon for a fourth time by drubbing Zvonareva, 6-3, 6-2, at Centre Court.
Williams, who picked up a winner’s check of some $1.6 million ($1 million pounds), never faced a break point, consistent with her play over a fortnight during which she did not surrender a set. Bold with serve, nearly flawless on volley, and amazingly cunning, powerful, and agile the few times Zvonareva forced her to skip along the baseline, Williams won her 13th major, moving one ahead of Billie Jean King.
“Hey, Billie, I got you,’’ crowed Williams, turning toward King’s spot in the stands during the on-court victory celebration. “This is No. 13 for me now.’’
King, the woman also known for giving Bobby Riggs a made-for-TV spanking in the ’70s, dropped to seventh on the Slams list. Williams is now sixth and climbing fast, and seemingly unimpeded.
“Of course she’s beatable,’’ offered Zvonareva, her game strong, but almost naive in comparison to the mighty Williams. “She’s a human being. She’s not a machine. I mean, it’s very difficult to beat her. You have to play your best. But you know, if you do, you can do it.’’
However, as Zvonareva said repeatedly, she was nowhere near to solving Williams. For this Russian, Williams proved to be a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
Tactically, said Zvonareva, she probably should have attacked more on Williams’s second serves. But Williams’s first serves, which averaged 106 miles per hour, put up points an amazing 94 percent of the time, almost good enough to win the match even if Zvonareva had muted every second serve. Just no way out. Williams was simply too strong, too focused, too good.
“On a consistent basis, nobody,’’ said the legendary Martina Navratilova, asked during a BBC interview if anyone could beat Williams. “The young crop [including Zvonareva] is not up to it yet, and the old guard like [Kim] Clijsters and Venus [Williams] — they’re not quite there.’’
Surprisingly, the scoresheet had Williams committing 15 unforced errors to only 11 for Zvonareva. But that in part was because of the wide disparity in winners — 29 for Williams and only nine for Zvonareva. With Williams so sharp, including 14 for 14 in points at net, Zvonareva wasn’t faced with opportunities to make or miss. Again, a measure of the Williams choke hold from start to finish.
“If you have to handle a 120-mile-an-hour serve, and try to return it in a way to put her in defense, it’s very difficult,’’ said Zvonareva. “So you just have to find spots around the court and try to return.’’
Try, but to no avail . . . time and time and time again.
“Maybe sometimes I went for too much,’’ offered Zvonareva, Williams proving to be both rock and hard place, “and sometimes I didn’t attack enough.’’
The beginning to the end came in the first set, ninth game, Zvonareva on serve. After building to a 40-15 advantage, she first slipped to deuce when she double-faulted (one of two all day), then lost the game on a second break point, with a running Williams nailing a winning forehand passing shot. The ball back in her hand at 5-3, Williams captured the set with only 36 minutes gone.
Still rattled, and with Williams’s name ready to be posted on the winners’ board again, Zvonareva then surrendered the first game of the next set. The losing point had her at the net with an easy-to-put-away shot, which she promptly buried into the net with a botched shoulder-high forehand.
Clearly, Williams was in her head. Zvonareva, in a major final for the first time, already had seen the defending champ return too many unreturnables and figured she would have to drive the ball flat and hard for Williams not to mark it “return to sender.’’ Instead, she overhit, her racket turned cudgel turned death stroke.
“I made some, I think, bad tactical choices,’’ sighed Zvonareva. “And that’s why she was able to break me.’’
Williams added another break to make it 4-1 in the second set, Zvonareva handing over the game on a double fault after fending off two break points. A flash of hope followed by despair. Williams ultimately wrapped it up, 6-2, barely allowing Zvonareva — at this point holding back tears — to touch the ball in the clinching love game.
“I thought, ‘I’ve got to stay focused and I want to win this game,’ ’’ said Williams, asked her mind-set in the midst of such a shellacking. “If I get up a couple of breaks, that way if I get nervous, I have a little space.’’
But Zvonareva was never even close. When it was over, as if to acknowledge the fait accompli sense to it all, Williams didn’t make the customary fall to the turf to celebrate. She simply raised arms, turned to her extended family, and used both hands to remind them that she notched her 13th major.
The winner’s plate in hand, Williams signed autographs and then made her way to the players’ room. The last glimpse of the TV camera had her making a whimsical pirouette, an impromptu and dainty end to an utter thrashing.
“I was really feeling Frank Sinatra-ish,’’ said Williams, who revealed that she has Sinatra, Mozart, Lil John, and Roscoe Dash as the eclectic mix on her MP3 player. “You know, come fly with me, fly me to the moon. That’s what I felt like at the moment.’’
No mention of Costner or Limbaugh. The rest of the field can only hope those two might one day stop her.