Zvonareva left reeling by Serena power


Down in the dumps
© AELTC / M. Hangst

BBC commentator John McEnroe wondered aloud what Vera Zvonareva might be listening to through her headphones moments before her first Grand Slam final. The Russian's personal website says she's a fan of the American rock band Linkin Park. Maybe it was the seventh track from their Meteora album, the appropriately titled Faint.

The task facing the 25-year-old from Moscow would have left anyone feeling weak at the knees. Many felt Bepa, as she's known to many of her fans, needed a miracle to survive her first Grand Slam showpiece against one of the greatest players ever to pull on a tennis dress and pick up a racket. And so it proved.

Before the match, the Russian told anyone who would listen that she refused to look at the statistics. Probably a good move. Serena is the world No.1, Zvonareva the second-lowest-ranked Wimbledon ladies' finalist ever. The American had featured in 15 Grand Slam singles finals, this was the challenger's first. The younger of the Williams sisters had 12 majors on her CV, Vera's featured none. For a woman who insists she loves books, even for her this made horrible reading.

And yet, during the early stages of the match Zvonareva showed promise. Despite taking the opening game to love in a minute, Serena took momentarily longer to move through the gears than anyone expected - and the Russian did a half-decent job of staying in touch. Six games passed and the scoreboard read 3-3. If Zvonareva was in any doubt as to her popularity, the noise that rose from the stands when she saved break point at 2-3 would have helped settle any nerves.

After victories over Jelena Jankovic, Kim Clijsters and giant-killer Tsvetana Pironkova, we were wondering whether the international economic relations student could mastermind another upset. And then it happened. Williams found top gear, hit turbo boost and left Zvonareva in the dust. The forehand pass that secured a break of serve and a 4-3 lead was every bit as magnificent as the down-on-one-knee pose Serena pulled for the cameras the moment the ball fizzed past Zvonareva's racket.

A 4-3 lead became 5-3, which quickly read 6-3 after just 36 minutes on court. Experts had warned of Serena's potency on serve before the match, and the numbers didn't lie. Twenty points played that began with a Williams first serve and the Russian had won just one of them.

When a desperate Zvonareva forehand sailed into net to hand Serena a break in the first game of the second set, the cameras cut to team Zvonareva in the Russian's box. Things were getting ugly for coach Sergei Demekhine - not a sensation the former touring pro and part-time model is familiar with. Zvonareva must have felt like lunging for the pause button, such was the alarming speed the contest was racing away from her.

Serena made it five in a row for 2-0 and the unstoppable Williams juggernaut kept thundering on towards her 13th Grand Slam crown. It was all the Russian could do to keep things respectable, which she just about did, by holding for 2-5.

With the match clock showing 67 minutes, Serena engineered her first Championship point and with the raw power and inch-perfect precision that had got her into that position she did the humane thing and put the Russian out of her misery, burying a final, brutal overhead into the battered Centre Court turf.

"Since I was a little kid I dreamed of playing here on Centre Court at Wimbledon," an emotional Zvonareva told the crowd afterwards. One can only hope she won't remember it as more of a nightmare. Back in the All England Club locker rooms, she could be excused for reaching for her iPod to block out the pain. Linkin Park's chart-topping anthem Numb might be a good place to start.


by Lee Goodall, www.wimbledon.org