Serena Williams serves her way into Wimbledon final

WIMBLEDON, England – Serena Williams served her first ace in the first game of her Wimbledon semifinal match Thursday against second-seeded Victoria Azarenka. It was up the middle, and it raised a dust ball on Centre Court. And it was a trend-setter.

By the time Williams’ 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory over Azarenka was complete, Williams had served 24 aces. That broke the Wimbledon record that Williams had set last week against Zheng Jie by one. And Williams played three sets against Zheng.

“That’s the best she ever had and the best I’ve ever seen,” Richard Williams, Serena’s father and coach, said about her serving prowess.

Williams’ win, in 1 hour 36 minutes, sent her to her seventh Wimbledon final and her 18th major tournament final. On Saturday she will play first-time Wimbledon finalist and third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who beat eighth-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany, 6-3, 6-4.

Friday, beginning at 8 a.m. EDT and televised live this year in all time zones by ESPN, will be the men’s semifinals – top-seeded and defending champion Novak Djokovic against six-time Wimbledon champion and third-seeded Roger Federer, followed by fourth-seeded Andy Murray against fifth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Federer and Djokovic have played each other 26 times (Federer leads, 14-12), but this will be the first meeting on grass, and if the 30-year-old Federer pulls off the upset he would regain the No. 1 ranking in the world.

“It is interesting that this is our first grass-court match,” Federer said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

If Federer were to win his seventh Wimbledon, he would equal Pete Sampras and Willie Renshaw with the most men’s singles titles.

Djokovic, though, has won four of the last six Grand Slam tournaments, and the 25-year-old from Serbia is 43-2 at the four majors in the last two years.

“Roger has a lot of respect from me, from all the players,” Djokovic said. “But we are all rivals. We are opponents. I don’t think about his success when I’m on the court.”

Williams had been as dominating as Djokovic has been the last two years when she won her last major title, her 13th, here two years ago.

Shortly after that win, Williams suffered a foot injury that needed surgery, and during her recovery she had a pulmonary embolism. Williams missed more than a year of tennis and hasn’t won a major since her return. She lost in the fourth round at Wimbledon last year, in the final of the 2011 U.S. Open, in the fourth round of the 2012 Australian Open and in the first round of the French Open in May.

But Lindsay Davenport, who won Wimbledon in 1999 and was considered one of the best servers of her generation, said it would be nearly impossible to beat a woman who serves 24 aces in a grass-court match.

And Davenport and Martina Hingis, who won seven majors, including one Wimbledon title, agreed on one thing: Radwanska’s chances of beating Williams? “Not great.”

Williams, 30, said she was unaware during the match that she was dominating her service games. “I thought, ‘Gosh, I’ve got to get more first serves in.’ It really didn’t feel like I hit 24 aces at all.”

But she is happy about where she is doing her job now. During her career, Williams has dabbled in clothing design and acting. She has had romantic relationships with rap stars. Now, she said, it is all about the tennis.

“I’m so happy to be playing. I’m so happy to be on the court,” she said. “I feel like this is where I belong. Maybe I don’t belong in a relationship. Maybe I don’t belong somewhere else. But I know for a fact I do belong on this tennis court.”

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