LONDON // Win or lose in her first grand slam final this afternoon, Vera Zvonareva has done a remarkable job of re-establishing herself among the elite of women's tennis after her career was threatened by an ankle operation in November. An unlikely triumph over the defending champion and three-times Wimbledon winner Serena Williams would boost Zvonareva into the seventh spot in the WTA rankings, after having arrived at the All England Club in 21st position.
Defeat would make her ninth and still a strong contender to qualify for the year-ending tour championships in Doha. She is also guaranteed to make what is, by her standards, a belated annual breakthrough of the US$1 million (Dh3.6m) earnings barrier. Victory would take the Russian's career total well beyond $8m; defeat would take her up to $7.5m. A winner of 10 titles, Zvonareva is by no means cannon fodder for Williams to shoot down in the same ruthless fashion as she has disposed of her other six rivals here, all without the concession of a single set.
Zvonareva showed, particularly in ending the hopes of US Open champion Kim Clijsters, why she is the woman considered to have the best chance of dethroning Williams. She is in no doubt that she will need all of her battling qualities if she is going to notch her first major title in her 30th attempt. "I think I know how to turn matches round much better than used to be the case," she said, explaining her strong comebacks from a set down in both her quarter-final and semi-final matches.
"I think it is a question of experience. I know now how to handle different situations." Zvonareva was grateful yesterday for a much more routine passage to the women's doubles final as she and fellow Russian Elena Vesnina needed only 62 minutes to account for Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 6-1. "I feel pretty good right now," she said. "Very excited about reaching another final and doing so without spending too long on court."
Williams's serve has proved a frighteningly destructive weapon over the past fortnight. Her aces aggregate reached 80 in her semi-final. But Zvonareva's impressive form means the American is guarding against taking a 13th grand slam title for granted. "I think everybody goes through a phase when they become over-confident if they keep on winning," she said. "I made that mistake once, against Monica Seles, and ended up losing.
"It's important not to do that any more." Nevertheless, Williams is hoping a Wimbledon decade will end in the same way it started, with a member of her family holding aloft the appropriately named Venus Rosewater Dish. Her big sister Venus won it for the first of five times in 2000 and Serena claimed the first of her three titles two years later. Since then, only Maria Sharapova in 2004 and Amelie Mauresmo in 2006 have broken the Williams family's grip on the most coveted trophy in the game. firstname.lastname@example.org