LONDON // When you are facing a serve as fearsome as Serena Williams's in the nerve-wracking arena of Wimbledon's Centre Court, you have to be at the peak of your powers to stand any chance of survival. Sadly for those who were hoping for a third major shock to follow the departures of two of the tournament's most successful visitors - Venus Williams and Roger Federer - the tall Czech Petra Kvitova could not rise to the occasion. An unexpected break of serve in the fifth game which gave the 62nd-ranked Kvitova a brief advantage was the nearest a yearning crowd came to cheering another bombshell result.
Serena, confirming her No 1 status in a week where her position was under threat from three sources, gradually broke the spirit of her gallant challenger, the powerful American remaining the more composed in the crucial first set tie-break before easing to her 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 victory. The defending champion had sent down 73 aces in reaching her latest semi-final - the highest total recorded in the first five rounds of the women's singles - and although she added only seven more yesterday, the consistent penetration of her first serve proved the decisive weapon in enabling her to move within reach of a fourth title here.
The statisticians reckoned that 31 of Serena's serves were outright winners and Kvitova admitted struggling to read them. "She has a very big serve, probably the fastest on the tour," she said. "At times I couldn't return them, especially when she had new balls." Kvitova, 20, also had cause to lament the low percentage of dividends she received from what had been her most productive shot so far - the booming forehand which carried her triumphantly into uncharted grand slam territory but let her down so badly when she got there.
Looking confidently towards her clash tomorrow with Russia's Vera Zvonareva, Williams said: "The danger for me now is not putting too much pressure on myself. Vera has proved in her last two matches that she is a fighter so I have to be on my guard." firstname.lastname@example.org