Zvonareva faces big odds against Serena Williams

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Vera Zvonareva has never played in a Grand Slam final before. At No. 21, the Russian is the second-lowest ranked player ever to reach the Wimbledon women’s final. Her opponent is the world’s top-ranked player and a three-time Wimbledon winner.

Nothing to worry about then.

“I don’t care what everyone says,” the 25-year-old Zvonareva said. “I know if I can 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. I never look at any odds or comparisons. It’s not important to me.”

Standing on the other side of the net will be none other than defending champion and 12-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams.

“I’m hoping to still peak in the final,” said Williams, a scary thought from someone who hasn’t dropped a set in six matches and has served a Wimbledon record 80 aces.

Williams will be playing in her sixth Wimbledon final and 13th Grand Slam title match, and knows Centre Court at the All England Club as well as anyone in the game.

“On paper it looks like I should win,” Williams said. “But Vera, she’s beaten some good people. Her last two matches she’s been down a set, so she’s obviously a fighter. She never gives up. The biggest thing for me is to stay positive and not put too much pressure on myself.”

The men’s finalists will be determined Friday, with second-seeded Rafael Nadal facing No. 4 Andy Murray and No. 3 Novak Djokovic playing Tomas Berdych in the semis. Nadal leads Murray 7-3, while Djokovic is 2-0 against Berdych.

Williams eliminated 62nd-ranked Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (5), 6-2 on Thursday, while Zvonareva rallied to beat No. 82 Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

It might be refreshing for Serena to face a different opponent for the title. She has played sister Venus in four finals, winning in 2002, 2003 and 2009 and losing in 2008.

Venus was knocked out in the quarterfinals this week by Pironkova, but Serena’s victory means at least one of the sisters has advanced to the final for the 10th time in 11 years.

Serena has a 12-3 record in Grand Slam finals and has beaten Zvonareva in five of their previous six matches.

“I don’t think she does anything terrible; I think that’s the best way to describe her game,” Williams said. “She does everything good. It’s tough playing a player like that who doesn’t really have one real weakness and everything pretty much is a strength, from her forehand to her backhand to her movement.”

Zvonareva’s previous best showing in a Grand Slam was a semifinal appearance at the 2009 Australian Open. She’s been known as one of the game’s most temperamental players, prone to sobbing on court when things don’t go according to plan.

Zvonareva insists she has gained confidence and maturity over time.

“I always believe in myself,” she said. “I always know that I can do anything. For me, it came with experience. I know better how to handle different situations. I know how to turn the matches around much better now.”

That’s exactly what happened against Pironkova. After losing the first set, the Russian took control with a service break early in the second set and never let go. Chances are it won’t be that simple against Williams.

“I will have to stay aggressive no matter what and not let her dominate,” Zvonareva said. “Because when Serena dominates, she’s very difficult to play.”

The 20-year-old Kvitova — who had lost in the first round in the previous two Wimbledons — pushed Williams to the limit in the first set, often controlling the play with her groundstrokes and pinning the champion behind the baseline. But Williams won the big points in the tiebreaker and sailed through the second set.

The match was highlighted by arguably the point of the tournament, a 19-stroke rally in the second set that left both players gasping for breath. The point featured great gets by both players, lobs, volleys and finally a forehand volley winner by Kvitova. Two points later, she double-faulted for the break.

“That was really exciting. Believe it or not, I even thought so,” Williams said. “I thought if I could have won that rally it would have been an awesome fist pump.”