Serena serves her way into quarterfinals
WIMBLEDON, England -- Six years ago, a 17-year-old from Siberia surprised Serena Williams -- the two-time defending champion -- in the final here at the All England Club.
Maria Sharapova won in straight sets, collecting her first Grand Slam singles title, and you couldn't help but wonder how many Wimbledon titles she would take home in her career.
On Monday, after Serena's forceful 7-6 (9), 6-4 victory over Sharapova, that total will remain at one. Serena is through to the quarterfinals, and Sharapova will have to console herself with the idea that she is very, very close to returning to top form after shoulder surgery 20 months ago.
"I thought I had my chances," Sharapova said, sounding genuinely upbeat. "If it was not for her really great serving, I certainly had a real good look at winning the match. I gave her a run for her money. I'm feeling really good."
Tiebreakers are, by definition, hit-or-miss affairs. For 20 points, Serena and Sharapova went at it. The Russian had two set points but couldn't convert. It was 9-all when Sharapova made her first unforgivable error -- a double fault that was a good foot beyond the service line. Serena, handed her third set point, slammed an ace down the middle and the first set was hers, 57 minutes after it commenced.
Those back-to-back points underlined the current difference between the two players. Serena served up 19 aces (against only five double faults), and Sharapova had three aces and seven double faults. Although their second serves were identical in terms of average speed, Serena's fastest first serve was 125 mph, nine better than Sharapova's.
"I think today that was really the difference," Sharapova said of Serena's serve. "Even when you had a good look and the ball's coming at you in the 120s, it's pretty tough to do much with it."
Serena, who can be a bit whimsical in her news conferences, mused about the massive serves of 6-foot-9 John Isner.
"If I could serve like him," Serena said, "I'd be a star."
Which, of course, she already is.[+] EnlargeMatthew Stockman/Getty ImagesSerena Williams hit 19 aces versus Maria Sharapova in their fourth-round showdown.
"I'm serving uncharacteristically good," Serena said. "I don't know what it is about this court."
Sharapova was broken in the third game of the second set (back-to-back double faults were the culprit) and soon enough Serena was showing off the curtsy she had practiced relentlessly for an audience with the queen and waving to the Centre Court crowd.
Serena's strategy was to rush Sharapova, crowd her into making errors, which is what happened in the 2007 Australian Open final, when Serena dropped only three games. There were times, however, when she seemed to be rushing herself into mistakes.
Sharapova isn't that far away; she hit a serve a career-best 121 mph a few weeks ago. There were a few critical-mass points when she just didn't seem as mentally tough as Williams, though. This comes as no surprise, for this was Sharapova's first match against a top-10 player this year.
"I certainly could have done a little bit of better job in executing," Sharapova said. "I can sit here and whine about that. But the fact that I gave myself a chance and I went out there, and I'm feeling just really happy to be playing out there the way I want to play.
"It's a joy to be out there again."
Going forward, she should be a threat at the U.S. Open, an event she won in 2006.
Afterward, Serena was asked about the England-Germany World Cup game, which saw a goal that was clearly stroked across the line by England but was not acknowledged by the referee.
"Humans can't be perfect, which is why there is technology," Serena said. "I don't understand in this day and age why they don't have the technology."
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On this day, in her first high-pressure match of the fortnight and despite what she said, Serena was very nearly perfect. If she keeps serving those bolts of lightning, she could well win her second consecutive Wimbledon title.
"I don't think you're going to see too many breaks," Sharapova said. "There's always a chance. But if she's consistently serving and hitting those spots with that speed, I think it's pretty tough."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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