‘Clever’ Radwanska awaits Serena

Serena Williams will play her 18th Grand Slam final and her seventh at Wimbledon on Saturday after an excellent all-around performance, highlighted by a record 24 aces, which earned her a 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory Thursday over recent world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.

Williams will play Agnieszka Radwanska, the 23-year-old from Poland, who was too consistent for Angelique Kerber of Germany, winning 6-3, 6-4.

Williams and Radwanska have met only twice, and not since they played here in 2008. Serena was a 6-4, 6-0 winner on that occasion, but it seems irrelevant now.

“Radwanska’s a 1,000 percent better player now,” said Serena’s father and coach, Richard Williams, as he sat on a bench outside the players’ lawn, puffing on a cigarillo. “No comparison. I think she’s the most consistent player on the tour right now. Clever player.”

Richard Williams thought Radwanska had risen to No. 1 in the world off the back of her victory Thursday, but that will happen only if she wins the title. If Radwanska loses to Serena Williams, Azarenka will climb back to the top in place of Maria Sharapova.

Williams got a good approval rating from her father after her semifinal win, which is not always the case.

“She served very well, hit her forehand well and moved well on the grass,” Richard Williams said.

Serena Williams probably will need to do all those things well again to overcome Radwanska, who is emerging as a player who plots her way through matches like Martina Hingis used to — thinking two or three strokes ahead in the rally as she searches for openings. Williams, of course, will give her far less time to think about it all than Kerber, who fought hard with little to show for it.

“My plan was playing aggressive,” said Kerber, a 24-year-old left-hander, “But she (Radwanska) moved very well and made not so many mistakes, so it was really difficult to play (consistently).”

Williams had humiliated Azarenka on blue clay in the Madrid final in May, winning 6-1, 6-3, but this was a closer contest, with the Belarussian twice getting within two points of winning the second set at 5-5 and then 6-6 in the tiebreak. After missing her first match point by hoisting a lob long, Serena made no mistake with the second, hitting that 24th ace, which is a record for women’s play at Wimbledon.

Not that Serena seemed to know much about it. "I didn’t feel like I hit 24 aces," she said. "I thought it was about 10. I thought my serve was off actually. But clearly it wasn’t."

Then she drew laughter when asked what her favorite shot was. "Oh, the ace, I suppose," she replied. "You don’t have to think. It’s a lazy shot."

Earlier, Azarenka had done well to break back from 3-1 when Williams allowed the Belarussian to capitalize on a couple of backhand errors. But there was no way the American was going to let slip another chance to get back to the final after losing in the fourth round to Marion Bartoli here last year.

A year ago, Williams was only just returning to the tour after foot surgery and a serious health scare. She seems fit enough now, despite going over on her ankle during doubles with Venus on Wednesday night. A fifth victory Saturday would see Williams  draw alongside sister Venus Williams for Wimbledon singles titles won — the prospect of family history in the making.