By Matt Cronin
WIMBLEDON - The WTA has put on plenty of great shows at the Grand Slams over the years, but it's hard to think of any quarterfinal day that was more thrilling than the second Tuesday at 2012 Wimbledon, when all four matches were packed with drama and quality and turned Frenchman Gilles Simon’s comment that women's tennis is less interesting than men’s completely on its head.
The day began with four-time champion Serena Williams putting on clutch serving display and pushing back defending champion Petra Kvitova 6-3, 7-5 in an extremely intensive contest which the great American ended with three aces and a service winner under the roof on another rainy day.
Then the two very promising Germans followed them on Centre Court, with No. 8 Angelique Kerber overcoming 2011 semifinalist Sabine Lisicki 6-3, 6-7(7), 7-5 in contest that she nearly gagged in the second set, but then came back from 4-5 down in the third by breaking the service bombing Lisicki in a game she said that 'saved her life.'
All the while, third seed Agnieszka Radwanska and the ambitious Maria Kirilenko endlessly went on and off Court 1 due to rain. Their match was finally suspended in the early evening to wait until No. 2 Victoria Azarenka could Polish off the super talented Tamira Paszek 6-3, 7-6(4) on Centre Court in a contest that probably should have went three sets if not for some late hiccups by the Austrian.
Then Radwanska and Kirilenko got their chance to finish their match under the roof. They came out deadlocked at 4-4, Kirilenko held, Radwanska barely did and then the more experienced Pole ran away with the next two games and the contest 7-5, 4-6, 7-5. Afterward, Kirilenko's very visible boyfriend, NHL star Alex Ovechkin, sadly hung his head.
"I felt like today was at least 25 hours for me," said a relieved Radwanksa, who reached her first Grand Slam semifinal.
"It's always difficult because you really have to stay focused the whole day, going on and off all the time. Finally we switched the court for the indoor court. Felt so different. Without rain, without wind, it's really just different tournament. It's always tough, especially you go on court it's 4‑all. It's not really time for some mistakes because is now time to come back."
All the winners were pleased and most of the losers while they were disappointed, but at least they appreciated the high level of the matches.
Now Radwanska, who has been so good outside of the majors during the last year and largely disappointing at them in big matches, has a gigantic opportunity against Kerber, the strong, hard hitting lefty who also ran Kim Clijsters out of the tournament in a blink of an eye. It was Kerber who came out of nowhere to stun the Pole at last year's US Open when Radwanska had come into the tournament red hot, but now the world has gotten taste of Kerber, who recommitted herself to the game after falling in the first round of 2011 Wimbledon and has been virtually unstoppable since then. Now she wears a bigger target on her back but she doesn’t seem to care.
"Now everybody expects for me to be in the second week, win the matches against the girls that are behind me. And I feel the pressure for sure. But I really just try to focus on me and make my thing. And I think that's helps me."
Radwanska realizes what huge opportunity she has. It's hard to find anyone who does not like to watch her glide about the court hitting quick-fisting winners and caressing drop shots, but she still has to show the planet that her old school style is still relevant at the majors, and although she is more experienced than the left-handed Kerber, she doesn’t have the ability to blow holes in the turf like the German does.
"This is the semifinal, so it means that we both played already couple of good matches, also against seeded players," Radwanska said. "It means she's also playing great tennis. Really I have to play hundred percent to win that match."
Serena has been around the Grand Slam block many times and knows how to win big matches, but she had looked shaky off the ground in two long three-set wins over Zheng Jie and Yaroslava Shvedova and knew if she didn't up her game that the tall Czech would send her packing. So she "weeded out the riffraff" got serious, returned big when she had too, got her feet moving and was more accurate off the ground. A little pep talk didn't hurt either."
I had a good talk with my dad." she said. "He motivated me and my sister [Venus], as well. I had a talk with Patrick Mouratoglou, too. It was great. Like all three of those got me really motivated to do better and be the player that know I can be."
Serena would love to tie Venus with five Wimbledon titles, but she has to take two more major steps. Give that she's 7-1 against Azarenka lifetime and has beaten her in five Slams, including 2009 Wimbledon and last year at the US Open, she can’t be too concerned that she'll go down if she plays to the best of her ability. She knows that the Belarusian is a threat, but she is in her head, even if Azarenka won't admit it.
Azarenka has not been in the greatest of moods off court during the fortnight, but her groundstrokes have been lethal and she has yet to drop a set. But this is grass court tennis, where serving well is paramount, as is holding one's nerves in rapid-fire rallies. The 22-year-old Azarenka wants to put her previous losses to Serena behind her and look ahead, but history is instructive and if she knows one thing, it's that Serena will come out firing. The question on Thursday is whether when she returns fire can she hit her targets.
"Every time she plays against me she plays really well no matter where it is," Azarenka said. "I think everybody takes Grand Slams with a little bit more intensity...Every time you step on the court it's a new story. You kind of write your own history every time."