When Serena Williams took the court on Thursday with Elena Vesnina for their semifinal match at Wimbledon, it was impossible not to think about Roberta Vinci.
At the United States Open last year, with Williams two victories away from completing a Grand Slam, she ran into an obstacle named Vinci.
A 32-year-old Italian ranked 43rd, Vinci was a Grand Slam doubles champion who had never played in a singles semifinal at a major. She had not won a set in four previous matches against Williams.
Weighed down by the pressure and kept off balance by Vinci, Williams was the victim of one of the biggest upsets in the history of tennis, losing, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Vesnina, a 29-year-old Russian ranked 50th, is also a Grand Slam doubles champion who had never played in a major semifinal in singles. She had lost all four previous meetings, and all eight previous sets, to Williams.
But Williams made sure to quickly erase any thoughts of Vinci, beating Vesnina, 6-2, 6-0, in 49 minutes.
She quickly broke Vesnina in the first game of the match and then won the next three games before Vesnina even had a game point.
Williams had 11 aces among her 28 winners and lost only three points on her serve during the match.
“It’s never easy out there,” she said diplomatically in a television interview after the match. “Every point you have to fight for.”
In Saturday’s final, the top-seeded Williams will face either her sister Venus or Angelique Kerber, who defeated her in the Australian Open final this year.
Williams is in her third straight Grand Slam final, but remains stuck at 21 major titles, behind only Steffi Graf’s Open era record.
“I’m 0 for 2,” she said in a television interview after the match. “I’m determined to get at least one this year.”
Williams has won Wimbledon six times and is in the final at the All England Club for the ninth time.
Williams and Vesnina are also facing each other in the women’s doubles quarterfinals on Thursday, with Williams pairing with her sister and Vesnina with Ekaterina Makarova.