Wimbledon, Day 10: Ladies' Singles Semifinals Preview

No. 21 Vera Zvonareva (RUS) vs Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) -- The unlikeliest grand slam semifinal in memory is up first on Centre Court on Day 10.

Thanks in large part due to an injury to her fourth round opponent, No. 4 Jelena Jankovic, Zvonareva's road to the semifinal wasn't especially tough until the semifinal.  But in that semifinal match, she registered an extremely impressive and extremely surprising three-set win over No. 8 Kim Clijsters, an extremely surprising result that wound up not even being the most surprising result of the hour.

Zvonareva was, of course, upstaged by the seismic upset scored by unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova, who took out Venus Williams in straight sets by the score of 6-2, 6-3.  Not only did the titanic win come in her first career grand slam quarterfinal, it also came in the first slam of her career in which she advanced past the second round.

Stylistically, this will be an interesting clash of styles.  Zvonareva is a power first, power always type player who goes all out on most every shot.  Pironkova, on the other hand, has shown an incredible amount of variety in this tournament, hitting both drives and chunky slices off her forehand wing that make her shots nearly impossible to anticipate.  Pironkova should be able to give Zvonareva fits with that mix in much the same the same way she drove Venus insane with it.

The two have played only once before, a bizarrely lopsided 6-0, 6-2 win for Pironkova last October in Moscow. Pironkova, a qualifier in Moscow, caught the No. 1 seed Zvonareva completely off-guard in that match, something that is sure not to happen in this semifinal.

Whoever wins this match will make history for their odds-defying achievement.If WTA No. 22 Zvonareva wins this match, she will be the lowest ranked first-time grand slam finalist on the women's side since all the way back to the 1999 Australian Open, when then-WTA No. 29 Amelie Mauresmo lost in the final to No. 2 Martina Hingis.If No. 82 Pironkova wins it, she will be the lowest ranked first-time grand slam finalist on the women's side since the computer rankings began in 1975.

Prediction: Pironkova in 3.

No. 1 Serena Williams (USA) vs Petra Kvitova (CZE) -- If Serena loses this, it will mean that women's tennis will see back to back slam champions outside the top 15, a pretty absurd feat given the alleged depth at the top of the women's game right now.

After a first round encounter with Michelle Larcher de Brito, Serena faced four consecutive players who have reached at least one grand slam semifinal.  Her wins over Anna Chakvetadze and Dominika Cibulkova were both extremely convincing, and her next two wins over No. 16 Maria Sharapova and No. 9 Li Na were both confident, patient, and opportunistic. 

Kvitova's road to the semifinals has also been incredibly impressive, facing down a quality opponent in every single match. She opened up the tournament against 2009 French Open quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea, beating her in straights.  She followed it up with a big second round win over No. 23 Zheng Jie, a two-time grand slam semifinalist, in three tight sets.  After that she rattled off a pair of dominating wins against (probably overrated) blondes, knocking off No. 14 Victoria Azarenka and No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets, not conceding a single game in the second set of either match.  She didn't play her best in the quarterfinal against qualifier Kaia Kanepi, but showed an incredible amount of guts and refusal to quit, saving five match points before coming away with the win 8-6 in the third.

Serena has not dropped a set in the tournament, and has simply been able to will her way past just about every opponent on power, experience, and intimidation alone.  It might take a while for her to figure out Kvitova's rhythm, but after what could be a tight first set, she should be able to roll in the second.

Prediction: Serena in 2.

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