Serena Williams hasn’t been her formidable self these last few weeks.

First she crashed out of Roland Garros shockingly early. Then Jie Zheng and Yaroslava Shvedova ran her scarily close here ; she was saved only by her serve and her will, both of which are still the best in the women’s game.

But against Petra Kvitova, the defending champion, in Tuesday’s quarterfinal, she had no choice but to find another level. “Well, you know, you can't play a defending Wimbledon champion or a Grand Slam champion and not elevate your game,” said Serena. “I had to weed out the riffraff and just get serious.”

The younger Williams did just that, winning a quarterfinal of high-quality grass-court tennis 6-3, 7-5 in an hour and 24 minutes. The most visible improvement was in her returning. “I feel like I've been returning really well in practice — much better than any of my matches — so I'm thinking one day it's going to come through. I can still return a lot better, but it just hasn't quite clicked yet. But today [Tuesday] was definitely better than the other matches,” she said.

Kvitova, who owns an effective lefty serve that swerves into tight angles, thought Serena’s anticipation was first-rate. “I think she expected my serve will come to the backhand because she has a really great forehand return,” said Kvitova.

“So it wasn't nice to serve a second serve to the forehand, so it was better for me to go to the backhand. I think she knew it. That's why she could return like that.”

Serena said a mental change had helped her turn things around. She talked to her father, Richard, and her sister, Venus, who reminded her of the player she is. She then prayed for calmness, she said, which allowed her to relax and play like she can.

Kvitova was unfortunate to run into Serena in such form. The Czech hit a high level herself, striking the ball with fluid power and even having a set point at 5-4 on the Serena serve. “I think there were some really important points that I could not play better,” said the 2011 champion. “I think that was the difference.”

Angelique Kerber and Sabine Lisicki followed Williams and Kvitova on to Centre Court, and the Germans produced a hard-hitting thriller that went late. Kerber, who routed Clijsters, had three match points in the second set, but Lisicki, who stunned Sharapova, survived the tie-break to level the match. Lisicki broke first in the third to go up 5-3, but Kerber was stronger at the death. She made her way to match point again and didn’t falter this time.

The quarterfinal between Agnieszka Radwanska and Maria Kirilenko was tied at a set all when rain suspended play. Victoria Azarenka and Tamira Paszek were to follow them.

Keywords: Wimbledon

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