But on the rare occasions when her powerful, slashing strokes are matched, she has a fail-safe device that sustains her through periods of vulnerability. It's something she rarely gets credit for, but is an essential part of what makes her the greatest women's champion of her generation.
With Petra Kvitova, a fearless 20-year-old from the Czech Repubic, crowding the baseline and take some outrageous cuts at the ball, Serena fell back and operated in scrambling mode, chipping off-balance backhands and blooping forehands. She survived and advanced to a first-set tiebreaker, when her serve finally came alive.
In the end, Serena prevailed 7-6 (5), 6-2 to advance to Saturday's final, where she will face Vera Zvonareva. In the first semifinal, Zvonareva dropped the first set but rallied to defeat Tsventana Pionkova 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Serena has beaten Zvonareva five of six times in their head-to-head matches.
"It definitely wasn't easy," Serena said afterward. "I didn't expect to get this far after I played in the beginning of the tournament. I just felt off." However, Serena's serve this fortnight has been historically huge. And though her ace and speed numbers were down on Thursday -- there was talk that her right shoulder (taped in Wednesday's doubles match) was bothering her -- her serve constantly bailed her out. For the record, she had seven aces against Kvitova, and her six-match total (80) has already exceeded the Wimbledon record she set last year.
Ultimately, this match was about experience. Serena has fashioned a grass-court record of 58-7. Kvitova, an unorthodox lefty, is now 5-5. "I will have to stay aggressive no matter what and not to let her dominate," Zvonareva said. "Because when Serena dominates, she's very difficult to play. I will try to fight for every point, and I think try to make it difficult for her on every point."
For Serena, the Wimbledon final is more like an old, favorite sweater. Ten of the past 11 Wimbledon finals have featured at least one Williams sister; four of them have seen Serena and Venus play each other. Serena, seeking her fourth Wimbledon title and 13th Grand Slam singles championship, will be a prohibitive favorite against Zvonareva. She has yet to drop a set here -- and, well, she's Serena Williams.
At the age of 28 -- the same as Roger Federer -- she is still in a major groove; a victory over Zvonareva would give her five Grand Slam singles titles in the past eight, going back to the 2008 U.S. Open. Three other players -- Svetlana Kuznetsova, Kim Clijsters and Francesca Schiavone -- are all next in line, with one.
Article by: Greg Garber (ESPN.com)