When the Serena Williams-Victoria Azarenka Wimbledon semifinal started today, Mike Tirico and Mary Joe Fernandez made it pretty clear that they considered the match the de facto final. This was a popular theory, but it's wrong. Serena's straight-set victory put her into the final against Agnieszka Radwanska—a matchup that promises to be far more challenging, and a million times more fun, than the semis.
Radwanska made quick work of Angelique Kerber today, continuing a Wimbledon run that's her best performance by far at any Grand Slam. Her game is not flashy. She is a younger and faster version of Marion Bartoli. She's creative, strange and a delight to watch. The Wall Street Journal's great Tom Perrotta called her "the most tactically sound, subtle tennis player in the world." She's a quirky, R.A. Dickey-ish type player: Crafty, smart, tactical. Given her game and her small stature, there are inevitable Martina Hingis comparisons.
A good primer for Aggie Radwanska is her 2007 third round U.S. Open match against Maria Sharapova. This was a time when Sharapova was still regarded as a dominant player—she was the returning Open champ—and before a packed house at Arthur Ashe, an 18-year old Radwanksa slew her. She induced Sharapova into repeated double faults by creeping in front of the service line, and wildly bouncing up and down. She's cool with gamesmanship, and when it comes from someone pint-sized, the audience is pretty cool with it too.
Serena, meanwhile, is having a kind of Roger Federerish tour through Wimbledon, dogged by the sense that this can't last forever. She hasn't won a Grand Slam event in two years. After last year's U.S. Open meltdown against Sam Stosur—or her ridiculous flameout at the French last month—the stakes are high. And, needless to say, Serena is the opposite in most ways to Aggie. She's been here before. She dials up massive forehands and aces. She's the sturdy veteran. The two will be a study in the full breadth and variety of the game.
Though today's coverage of Serena already sounded like a coronation—lots of talk about her "fierce" looks and how much she desperately wants it—she could be headed for a real match on Saturday. One that may go three sets, even! Wimbledon hasn't had a three set women's final in six years (and for those keeping score: the French hasn't had one in 11 years, the U.S. Open in 16 years). Memorable women's finals are hard to come by and you usually know ahead of time it's going to be a snooze-fest. Not this one. It'll be weirdly competitive.