Commentary

Serena climbing the ladder of greatness

Updated: July 3, 2010, 3:15 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- She has already proven to be the best player of her generation -- by a wide margin. Now, at the age of 28, can Serena Williams put together a late, great run and challenge history's very best?

Defending her title with gusto, Williams knocked first-time major finalist Vera Zvonareva right off Centre Court on Saturday, 6-3, 6-2. It was the fourth Wimbledon title for Serena and her 13th Grand Slam singles championship, which vaulted her past Billie Jean King into sixth place on the all-time list.

"This is No. 13," Serena said afterward, looking up at King, who was applauding in the Royal Box. "Hey, Billie, I got you!"

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert are next in line, but can Serena reel off five more majors in the time she has left? Before you say no, consider this: She has now won five of the past eight majors, a Federer-like stretch of dominance. Given the unsettled state of women's tennis swirling below her, it doesn't seem like a stretch.

"She's so mentally determined, and she has this attitude that she's not supposed to lose," Richard Williams, her father, said afterward. "I think that helped pull her through.

"With Serena's determination, she could win a few more [majors]. Look at Chris Evert and Martina, they were so great. No one might do what they did."

Serena, when asked how many majors she might ultimately win, declined to offer a number.

"I'm happy to win 13," she said. "You never know what tomorrow brings. Who would have thought? It just takes a dream and little work effort. I know Martina and five other people are ahead of me?

"I'm telling you, I don't think about that kind of stuff. I don't think about 'Serena won X amount of Grand Slams.'"

Richard and Oracene Price named their daughters Venus and Serena, but they have always seemed mismatched. Serena always burned hotter and brighter than her older sister, and Venus has been the calm, collected one -- which might have hurt her in their head-to-head encounters.

Well, this fortnight, Serena settled comfortably into her role as top seed and has been as tranquil and composed as her lovely name. Even when she was about to unleash a serve at, say, 122 mph, she wore a graceful look of solitude.

This horribly anticlimactic final was over in 67 minutes, and Zvonareva could not even manage a break point against Serena's sensational serve. Moreover, Serena lost only two points on her first serve.

[+] EnlargeSerena Williams
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesSerena Williams needs five more Grand Slam titles to catch Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

"Maybe I was not able to show my best today," Zvonareva said in her on-court interview. "But Serena just didn't allow me to show my best."

Serena finished with nine aces, and her seven-match total was a record 89. Navratilova, who was also in attendance, called Serena's serve the best she has ever seen, which is saying something. U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez concurred.

"Impeccable, just impressive, once again, the way she's able to dominate with the best [serve] we've ever seen in tennis," Fernandez said. "It's very hard for someone to compete [against her], time in, time out.

"Not so much that it's the biggest. It's the best, it's got the speed when she needs it, and the spin when she needs it. She can slice it, kick it and hit into the body."

Even Serena was surprised by her stellar serving.

"I've never served like this," Serena said. "Whenever I come to Wimbledon, I start serving well."

And finishing, too. She won all 14 sets here and, in the larger context, pushed her record in major finals to a sterling 13-3. As an added bonus, she has won 12 major doubles titles, which mean she's now at the quarter-century mark.

Zvonareva, meanwhile, came into the match insecure in the knowledge that she had lost five of her six previous matches against Serena, two of them in majors.

Serena pressured Zvonareva's serve in the sixth game and finally broke it in the eighth. On her second break point in the game, Serena played some terrific defense, then ran down a forehand and powered it past Zvonareva down the line. Serving for the set, she played her first two set points nervously -- double-faulting and sending a backhand long -- before settling down. Zvonareva did the dirty work, clubbing another errant forehand, which was both wide and long.

If the match wasn't over at that point, it was one game into the second set. Serena broke the Russian's serve right out of the box. Two overheads at the very end punctuated Serena's dominance, and when the last one sailed past Zvonareva she stood on the court with both her arms raised, smiling radiantly.

Zvonareva, for her part, was bitterly disappointed. At 25, in her 30th Grand Slam singles event, she produced her best two-week showing. Despite a troubling history of histrionics -- like Tomas Berdych on the men's side -- she is playing the best tennis of her life after nearly a decade as a professional.

She beat two former world No. 1s to reach the final -- Jelena Jankovic and Kim Clijsters -- and advanced to the doubles final with partner Elena Vesnina as well. She was emotional afterward, thanking her surgeon, whose deft skills repaired her ankle at the end of last season.

Serena, it should be noted, has never looked physically more imposing. Over the years, she has struggled with injuries, particularly her left knee. From 2002 to 2006, she missed at least one major event each year -- two in 2006. But since then, she's played 15 straight.

There was a time -- only a few years ago -- when people criticized Serena and Venus for not focusing enough attention on tennis. The funny thing? The Williams sisters have now won nine of the past 11 titles at Wimbledon.

"I'm still very interested in doing different things," Serena said. "I've never really cared what people said, that I should be playing [more] tennis and hitting balls."

Will Serena and Venus play another three or four years as some people think?

"I don't even look at that," Richard said. "I think if they decide to quit today, it would be a good idea."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Ravi Ubha contributed to this story.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.