WIMBLEDON, England – After Serena Williams moved within a victory of her fourth Wimbledon championship and 13th Grand Slam title overall, she was asked to assess the woman she'll face in Saturday's final, little-known Vera Zvonareva of Russia.
"I don't think she does anything terrible. I think that's the best way to describe her game," Williams said. "She does everything good."
That's a fair, if not necessarily charitable, scouting report. Minutes later came a follow-up: Is there anything Williams herself does "terrible" in tennis or in life?
She hemmed and hawed, then replied, "I don't know. That's a good question. I'm stumped."
It's difficult to find any flaws in Williams' play right now. The No. 1-ranked American has won all 12 sets she's played this fortnight, set a Wimbledon record with 80 aces in the tournament, and reached a third consecutive final at the All England Club by beating Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (5), 6-2 Thursday.
"Well," the defending champion said, "I'm hoping to still peak in the final."
That must be a daunting prospect for the 21st-ranked Zvonareva, who eliminated Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in Thursday's other semifinal.
Zvonareva is the second-lowest-ranked woman to reach a Wimbledon final, had never gotten past the fourth round here, and will be playing in a title match for the first time in 30 Grand Slam tournaments.
"I always believe in myself. I don't care about what everyone says," said Zvonareva, who drapes a pink, yellow and blue Wimbledon towel over her head during changeovers to block distractions. "I know if I play my best tennis, I can beat anyone. ... I never look at any odds or comparisons."
So she might not know that Williams is 12-3 in major finals.
Or care that Williams has won five of their previous six meetings.
"On paper, it looks like I should win," said Williams, who is wearing glittering, silver nail polish that sometimes reflects the sun's rays. "But Vera, she's beaten some good people. Her last two matches, she's been down a set, so she's obviously a fighter."
For Williams, it actually might be refreshing to look across the Centre Court net and see someone other than her older sister Venus.
Serena never has beaten anyone other than Venus in a Wimbledon final, winning all-Williams matchups in 2002, 2003 and 2009. Five-time champion Venus got the better of Serena in the 2008 championship match at the grass-court tournament.
"That's interesting. I guess the crowd should like that — not another Williams-Williams," said their mother and coach, Oracene Price.
At least one of her daughters has reached the Wimbledon final in 10 of the past 11 years. Not facing Venus on Saturday "makes it easier" for Serena to give it her all, Price said.
Venus isn't even in England; she flew home to Florida. She lost in Tuesday's quarterfinals to the 82nd-ranked Pironkova, who along with the 62nd-ranked Kvitova was trying to become the first unseeded women's finalist at Wimbledon.
Pironkova's match against Zvonareva began with dozens of empty green seats in the stands, perhaps because of the lunchtime start — or the low-wattage names on the marquee.
Still, the tennis was entertaining, with both women pounding shots. There was an odd delay in the second game, when Zvonareva's backhand landed in the net, and she immediately grabbed the ball and squeezed, showing it was flat. She handed the ball to chair umpire Eva Asderaki, who announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the ball is broken, and according to the rules, we will replay the point."
There also was a glitch during the second semifinal, when the speed meter momentarily went out of kilter and showed that Williams smacked a serve at 138 mph, then Kvitova hit one at 145 mph — which, if correct, would have surpassed the women's record, by far.
Pironkova never made it past the second round in 18 previous Grand Slam appearances, and she hasn't been a finalist at any tour event. But she didn't show nerves early on, breaking Zvonareva's serve to lead 4-2.
Throughout the first set, Pironkova successfully employed the same formula she used to upset Venus Williams and 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli: mixing speeds and limiting her mistakes.
When Zvonareva netted a backhand to end that set, she began gesturing and muttering. She's been known as one of tennis' most temperamental players, prone to sobbing on court when things don't go according to plan. Now 25, she insists she's more mature, and it showed Thursday, when she stayed calm enough to make adjustments, hitting deeper into the court and charging forward more and more.
It took 59 minutes for Zvonareva to earn a break point, which she did in the second set's sixth game by returning a 117 mph serve, then watching Pironkova put a backhand into the net. Zvonareva's groundstroke winner made it 4-2, and she shook her fist.
Zvonareva took 10 of the last 13 games. After producing eight winners in the first set, she totaled 23 the rest of the match. In all, Zvonareva won 29 of 35 points when she went to the net.
"She was playing very aggressive, and she was pushing me all the time," Pironkova said.
Zvonareva lost five of seven matches heading to Wimbledon, but she's now on quite a run, including getting past former No. 1s Jelena Jankovic and Kim Clijsters. Plus, she already owns one victory this week over Williams — over both, actually — by teaming with Elena Vesnina to eliminate the top-seeded sisters in the doubles quarterfinals.
The Williams sisters didn't show up for a news conference after that loss and were fined $4,000 each, something Serena said she was "shocked to hear."
That was about the only bad news for her Thursday, other than a brief early deficit against the left-handed Kvitova, a 20-year-old with braces and a go-for-broke attitude.
Kvitova went ahead 3-2 by breaking Williams' serve, then held to 4-2. But Williams broke back to 4-all when Kvitova missed a forehand. Then, at 6-3 in the tiebreaker, the far-more-experienced Williams held three set points — and let the first two slip away. On the third, Williams hit a service winner at 115 mph.
"I couldn't return," Kvitova said. "She has a great serve."
Williams hit seven aces, reached 119 mph, and didn't face a break point in the second set.
While acknowledging Williams' serving is "a very big advantage, I would say, especially here," Zvonareva also said: "There will be moments where she doesn't make a first serve. I haven't seen anyone make 100 percent of first serves."
Zvonareva's good with numbers. She's pursuing a master's degree in international economic relations at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow.
Williams took over Thursday by breaking to 3-2 in the second set, thanks to four miscues by Kvitova, who practices at the same tennis club in the Czech Republic as Tomas Berdych, who upset six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.
The best point of the day came in the seventh game of the second set. It was a 19-stroke exchange that included terrific defense by both players and an over-the-shoulder volley by Kvitova, who eventually won the point with a forehand. She and the 28-year-old Williams both paused to catch their breath afterward.
"That was really exciting. Believe it or not, I even thought so," Williams said. "I thought if I could have won that rally, it would have been an awesome fist pump."
Instead, she took the next two points, and a 5-2 lead, when Kvitova pushed a backhand wide, then double-faulted. Williams served out the victory, closing with a backhand winner that clipped the net and landed in.
She waved to the crowd, then did a little curtsy. Unlike Zvonareva, Williams knows how it feels to reach a Wimbledon final — and win one.
"I've been in this situation before — where I did put pressure on myself and actually ended up losing. I learned from that, hopefully," Williams said. "Win, lose or draw, I'm happy to have gotten this far."