Olympics: S. Williams d. Zvonareva
How times change. Last year, at Eastbourne, it was Vera Zvonareva who stopped Serena Williams cold as the American played her first tournament back from an injury lay-off of almost a year. Today it was the Russian who was a shadow of her former self, winning just one game as Williams, resplendent in some of the best form of her career, hustled Zvonareva off the court, winning 6-1, 6-0 in just 51 minutes.
The focus on Williams’ magnificent serving in the last month often inadvertently suggests that it’s the only thing she’s doing well. Nothing could be further from the truth, but ignoring the dominance and accuracy of Williams’ serving performance today—12 aces, winning 19 of 23 points behind her first serve and all nine behind her second—would be foolish. Zvonareva, no mean returner, had nothing to do but shake her head and cross to the other side.
One can argue that Zvonareva at her best would have struggled to make it competitive against Williams today anyways, but it’s indisputable that the former Wimbledon finalist is far from that best. Having struggled with hip and shoulder injuries and with losses to the likes of Garbine Muguruza on her 2012 record, Zvonareva was more or less reduced to feeding soft, short balls to Williams, who had all the time in the world to tee up a shot off whichever wing she felt like (her backhand was the favored shot today, and rightly so, as it was continuously awesome).
Broken to 15 in the first game of the match as her forehand drifted long, Zvonareva held serve just once—for 1-2 in the first set—before losing her serve at 1-3 as Williams dialed in her return, finding the grassless patch in front of the baseline on seemingly every point and sending the ball skidding straight at her opponent, eliciting the error. At 1-5, Zvonareva led 40-0 before Williams hit three consecutive and casually glorious forehand winners, then a backhand down the line for set point. A rare error saw that one go by, as Williams over-pressed on a short second-serve return, but on her second, she nailed the ball back behind Zvonareva into the corner for a near-perfect set.
Zvonareva’s best chance to make any kind of impression came immediately afterwards, as three errors by Williams gave her two break points. Zvonareva had a look at a second serve on the first and was actually in the point, but sent what would have—and should have—been a forehand winner long. She didn’t get another look as Williams aced to save the second, held, then broke on an off-backhand winner. Four games later, it was all over as Williams set up three match points with a clean return winner—her 32nd for the match—and Zvonareva put a backhand into the net to end a match in which the most interesting thing she had done was smash her racquet.