Serena Williams favored with 2 rounds to go at Wimbledon

Serena Williams is the favorite to win Wimbledon. Serena Williams has 12 major championships and three Wimbledon titles.

Serena Williams returns a ball to Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova during the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London, on June 26, 2010.

Williams vs. Williams won't happen in this year's Wimbledon final.

Kvitova vs. Pironkova remains a possibility.

Wimbledon's female final four will take the grandest stage in tennis Thursday, and for this quartet, there's no debating the headliner. Call the group Serena and the Other Semifinalists.

No. 1-ranked Serena Williams will play unseeded Petra Kvitova, and No. 21-seeded Vera Zvonareva will face unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova.

Say again?

"Every year there are so many new players, and so many new faces," Williams said. "I think it's good, because it keeps the sport exciting."

This lineup's a head-scratcher, though, and not just because five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams is missing. For the first time in three years, the final won't be an all-Williams affair.

Also eliminated before the semifinals were Grand Slam champions Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters.

Still in contention are four players with a combined 12 major championships and three Wimbledon titles. All belong to Williams.

The No. 21-ranked Zvonareva, No. 62-ranked Kvitova and No. 82-ranked Pironkova were a combined 12-13 lifetime at the All England Club before this year. None has ever reached a Grand Slam final, and now two of them might.

So what's going on here?

"You don't get to a quarter or a semifinal by luck, so they can obviously hit the ball hard," Clijsters said. "I really feel there are a lot of girls out there who can make it really hard for the top players, maybe just not on a consistent basis. I think that's what we're seeing.

"It's good to see new names doing well at the Grand Slams. These are all girls who have beaten a lot of good players in the past, but probably not in the spotlight when all the media are around to see it."

Maybe it's time to start expecting the unexpected. Four weeks ago, the French Open featured two first-time Grand Slam finalists in Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur. Both then lost in the first round at Wimbledon.

Rarely has women's tennis been more wide open. Still, it would seem this year's Wimbledon title is Serena's to lose.

"No, it's not mine to lose," she said. "It's mine to win if I can get it. There are three other people that are vying to win it. They have just as good a chance as I do."

Kvitova, for one, disagreed. When asked if she thinks she can become the champion, the 20-year-old Czech did not waver.

"I don't think so, no," she said. "Maybe I can lose (to) Serena."

And maybe the left-hander is relishing the role of underdog. She has already beaten No. 3-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, No. 14 Victoria Azarenka and No. 23 Zheng Jie, and she saved five match points and rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the third set to beat Kaia Kanepi in the quarterfinals.

Even less heralded is Pironkova, who said she began the tournament merely hoping to win a match or two. That seemed a reasonable goal given she has never won a tournament and has never previously made it beyond the second round in 18 Grand Slam events.

She surprised 2007 runner-up Marion Bartoli in the fourth round, then upset Venus Williams on Tuesday. Now, at 22, Pironkova's the first woman representing Bulgaria to reach a major semifinal in the 42-year Open era.

"Maybe I'm on the news there," she said. "Honestly I still cannot believe that I reached the semifinals. This is truly like a dream to me."

Zvonareva might seem less likely to be overwhelmed by the occasion, except that she has a reputation for emotional meltdowns and has been known to cry during matches.

Perhaps at 25 she's ready for a Grand Slam breakthrough. The Russian has won 10 tour titles and was ranked in the top five as recently as February 2009, shortly after she reached the semifinals at the Australian Open.

"You grow up," she said. "You're more mature. You've been in different situations, and you know how to manage them better. You know that it is important just to forget what was before and try to concentrate on the next point. I think right now I have learned a lot from the past, and I can do it much better now."

Williams, at 28, is the savvy veteran among the final four, and has been the dominant player in the women's draw. She has yet to lose a set in five matches, including victories over Sharapova and No. 9-seeded Li Na, and said she has never served so well.

With 73 aces through five rounds, Williams has already broken the tournament record she set last year. She has won 89 percent of the points when her first serve is good.

And she's 27-6 in the final two rounds of Grand Slam tournaments.

"Obviously she has more experience than anyone left in the draw," Venus Williams said. "Hopefully that will be really a lot more than enough for her."


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