WIMBLEDON, England - For the women’s final at Wimbledon, Serena will be the serene one.
On one side Saturday we’ll have Miss Williams, wearing a strawberry and cream dress befitting the occasion, and hoping to celebrate her 13th Grand Slam title with the same dainty curtsy she showed the queen of England last week.
On the other side we’ll have Russian Vera Zvonareva, towel draped over her head during changeovers as if hiding from her reputation for crying jags, temper tantrums and collapses in big matches.
Williams has been known for the occasional outburst. But her meltdown at the 2009 U.S. Open is a fading memory — she giggled reminiscing about it last week — and both her comportment and tennis have been impeccable through six rounds at Wimbledon.
Zvonareva has yet to be seen losing her cool, either, but who knows what goes on under that towel? She uses it for refuge during changeovers to help her concentrate, and the result has been an improbable run to her first Grand Slam final.
In her past two singles victories, Zvonareva rallied from a set down.
“With experience and maturity, I learn a lot about myself, and I know where I have to pump myself up and where I have to calm myself down,” the 25-year-old Zvonareva said Friday. “But emotions, I think they’re good. They should be there. It’s sport. It shows that you care, that you’re trying your best out there.”
She was once a teenage prodigy, reaching the French Open quarterfinals in 2003 at age 18. That was her best Grand Slam showing until last year, when she made the semifinals at the Australian Open.
Zvonareva has been known to sob on court even when she’s winning, and she has mangled more than a few rackets in anger.
“She was so emotional and would get down on herself,” three-time Grand Slam champion Lindsay Davenport said. “Now she seems like one of the most composed players on the WTA Tour.”
A turnaround in her results came unexpectedly. When Zvonareva arrived in London, she had lost five of her past seven matches, including a second-round defeat at the French Open and a first-round defeat in the grass-court warmup event at Eastbourne. Her ranking has slipped from a career-high fifth in early 2009 to 21st.
Now, with the towel off, she gives Wimbledon a fresh face: This is the first women’s final since 2007 that’s not Williams vs. Williams. Five-time champion Venus lost in the quarterfinals.
“I guess the crowd should like that — not another Williams-Williams,” said their mother and coach, Oracene Price.
Zvonareva’s the second-lowest ranked woman to make the Wimbledon final, while No. 1-ranked Serena is 12-3 in Grand Slam finals and seeking her fourth title at the All England Club. Zvonareva is 1-5 against Williams, with the only victory coming at Cincinnati four years ago.
“On paper it looks like I should win,” Williams said.
Most think she will. At a news conference Friday, there were 39 questions for the defending champion on such subjects as Green Day, her choice of shirts and the prospect of this being a masterpiece Grand Slam for her. Not one question involved Zvonareva.
Asked how she would prepare on the eve of the final, Williams said she planned to relax by watching “Desperate Housewives.”
“It’s a very big advantage, I would say, especially here on the grass,” Zvonareva said. “But I think if you can find the timing, you can return it. It’s very difficult when she’s serving well, but there are moments where she may not serve as well. You just have to use those chances. I haven’t seen anyone make 100 percent of first serves.”
Zvonareva’s good at crunching numbers — she’s pursuing a degree in international economic relations at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow. And she knows the London bookmakers don’t like her chances in the final.
“I don’t care about what everyone says,” she said. “I know if I play my best tennis, I can beat anyone on the other side of the net. That’s what I’m going to try to do on Saturday.”
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