Zvonareva overcomes early scare
Russian Vera Zvonareva survived an early wobble to book a place in the Wimbledon singles final with a 3-6 6-3 6-2 victory over unseeded Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova in the semi-final on Thursday.
The 21st seed reached her first grand slam final after a slow start against the world number 82, losing the first set before coming through with increasing confidence on a cloudy, breezy day on Court One.
"I'm very excited, I'm not realising it at the moment... It's one of my dreams to be out there (in the final)," the 25-year-old said in a courtside interview.
"It was very tough out there, she's a tough opponent and I'm happy with the way I hung in the match and was able to turn it around."
Fresh from a shock quarter-final victory over five-times champion Venus Williams, Pironkova showed no early nerves in the biggest match of her career, immediately taking charge of the first set by forcing Zvonareva onto the defensive.
Not even a replayed point after a burst ball could put her off her stride, and she went on to engineer the break in the sixth game with some confident groundstrokes and then a lucky drop on the net cord that had Zvonareva desperately scrambling to no avail.
The Bulgarian looked the more confident in the longer rallies and often ran round the backhand to unleash her formidable double-handed weapon to clinch the opening set in 32 minutes.
Image: Vera Zvonareva
Pironkova's serve was consistently broken
Zvonareva, who ousted Serb Jelena Jankovic and US Open champion Kim Clijsters on her way to the semis, grew in confidence in the second, forcing Pironkova further behind the baseline and onto her weaker forehand.
The Russian, who reached the 2009 Australian Open semi-final and has enjoyed stints inside the world top 10, broke to go 4-2 up and later sealed the set with a lucky net cord of her own.
It was the first set Pironkova had lost in the tournament but unfortunately for her the second was only 38 minutes away after being broken in the opening game of the third.
Pironkova, bidding to be the first unseeded woman to reach the final, survived another two break points in the third game but could not avoid one in the fifth as she went down a double-break at 4-1.
Without a tour victory to her name and not a grasscourt in sight in her homeland, Bulgaria's first major semi-finalist then let two break points of her own slip away and with it her chance of a spot in the final at the All England Club.
Zvonareva, whose biggest title to date was at Indian Wells in 2009, wrapped up the match with a fierce cross-court forehand that sent her opponent sprawling to win in one hour and 46 minutes.
She will play either American top seed and reigning champion Serena Williams or unseeded Czech Petra Kvitova in Saturday's final.
Image: Tsvetana Pironkova
Serena brushes Kvitova challenge
Serena Williams fended off a determined challenge from unseeded Czech Petra Kvitova on Thursday to book a Wimbledon final date against Russian 21st seed Vera Zvonareva.
"I definitely worked really hard," the defending champion and top seed said in a courtside interview after the 7-6 6-2 victory. "I didn't expect to get as far at the beginning of the tournament.
"It's such a blessing to still be in the tournament."
Zvonareva has already got the better of Williams once at this year's tournament when she and partner Elena Vesnina beat Serena and sister Venus in the women's doubles on Wednesday.
Kvitova, the world number 62, had been expected to be little more than a sacrificial lamb on Williams' route to a fourth crown at the All England Club, but the feisty Czech gave as good as she got in a tight first set.
From the off the 20-year-old Kvitova showed she was going to be no pushover, drawing an appreciative 'ooh' from the Centre Court crowd with a crosscourt forehand before earning a break point in the opening game.
The left-hander saved a break point in the next game and won her second service game against Williams to love, defying some observers who had predicted a Serena whitewash.
She was quick around the court, held her own in the longer rallies and produced some exquisitely placed shots in a first-set performance that defied her lowly world ranking.
Image: Serena Williams
Kvitova battled defiantly in the second set
The pressure and the breezy conditions seemed to get to Williams who struggled with her forehand and was broken in the fifth game.
The American broke back for 4-4 and finally found her feet when the set went into a tiebreak.
Williams' first serve was challenged by Kvitova but Hawk-Eye showed it had correctly been called in.
That decision seemed to galvanise Williams, although it still took a third set point for her to win the tiebreak 7-5 with a huge 115mph service bomb that Kvitova could barely get her racket to.
Kvitova battled defiantly in the second set but Williams had found her stride.
A double fault handed Williams her second break for a 5-2 lead, although the 28-year-old still needed a piece of luck to seal victory on her third match point.
The ball hit the net cord and dropped like a stone just out of reach of a desperately onrushing Kvitova.
Serena held up her hand in apology as she walked to the net and commiserated with her opponent before performing a curtsy to the applauding crowd.
Image: Petra Kvitova