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Sibling rilvary on track for renewal in Wimbledon finals

WIMBLEDON, England — With near identical firepower and focus, sisters Venus and Serena Williams moved one step closer to a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon final Tuesday, crushing their respective opponents to advance to the tournament’s semifinal round.

Venus, Wimbledon’s five-time and defending champion, was first to book a spot among the final four with a 6-1, 6-2 rout of Agnieszka Radwanska that took only 68 minutes.

Serena needed just five minutes longer to subdue Victoria Azarenka, dismissing the shrill-shrieking, racket-tossing teen from Belarus, 6-2, 6-3.

Now, only two Russians stand in the sisters’ way — Dinara Safina, the tournament’s top seed and current world No. 1, and fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva.

Should Venus vanquish Safina, and Serena dismiss Dementieva on Thursday, Wimbledon would be in store for its fourth all-Williams final and its second in a row.

“That would be fantastic,” said Venus, who holds a 2-1 edge over her younger sister in Wimbledon finals. “It’s what Serena and I are hoping for, but we still have to play well.”

Theirs is a stunning record at the All England club southwest of London, so far removed from the crime-ridden streets of Compton, Calif., where their father and mother taught them the so-called Game of Kings two decades ago.

While Venus and Serena have taken turns atop the world rankings and each hoisted trophies on every surface imaginable, nowhere do their strengths come into play like they do on the lawns of Wimbledon, which accentuate their powerful serves, quick reflexes, court smarts and overall athleticism.

One Williams or the other has won seven of the last nine Wimbledon singles titles. (Venus, in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008; Serena in 2002 and 2003).

And given the dominance they have shown through the tournament’s first five rounds, with neither losing a set, it’s impossible to imagine that a Williams couldn’t add to the family record on Saturday.

Venus, 29, was nearly flawless in the first set against Radwanska despite withering heat, bolting to a 5-0 lead and conceding just one point on her serve through the first three service games.

Only a momentary loss of focus early in the second set enabled Radwanska to mount a semblance of a challenge. She broke Venus to take a 2-0 lead, but the rally was short-lived.

“Her tennis is so powerful,” said a bewildered Radwanska, whose counter-punching approach, even if executed to perfection, wouldn’t have been enough to derail Venus’ onslaught on this day. “She’s playing so flat (with no spin and, as a result, little bounce to the ball), it’s hard to do anything with the ball.”

Safina, however, vowed to do her best on Thursday when the 23-year-old Russian will walk onto Centre Court as the underdog.

Venus is nowhere more at home than on grass. Safina, who trained on the clay courts of Spain, considers it an achievement to have evolved from hating grass-court tennis not long ago to simply not fighting it anymore.

“I have nothing to lose,” Safina said of her quest to derail Venus’ bid to become the first woman to win three consecutive Wimbledon titles since Steffi Graf (1991-93).

Serena, meantime, girds for her ninth meeting with Dementieva, who sailed into Thursday’s semifinal with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Italy’s Francesca Schiavone. Like the Williams sisters, Dementieva has yet to lose a set in the tournament. But none of her opponents has come close to matching the power and precision Serena displayed Tuesday.

With 10 major titles on her résumé (four Australian Opens, three U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons and one French Open), Serena has little left to prove on the tennis court. But rarely has she looked as dominant or determined as she did Tuesday in routing the 19-year-old Azarenka, who won her first title this spring in Miami at Serena’s expense.

Azarenka shrieked on every stroke from the opening game Tuesday, while Serena made her competitive statement nonverbally. Its meaning was clear: Azarenka’s victory in Miami was a fluke.

Much like Venus, Serena was near flawless in the opening set, committing just one unforced error. She blasted a shot squarely at Azarenka when she charged the net in her first service game. She crushed service returns for winners. She flashed a piercing stare down after stabbing a high backhand volley cross-court for a winner to open the second set. And she blasted three consecutive aces at one stretch.

“I really wanted to do well today,” Serena said afterward. “I didn’t do well the last time we played.”

The first set lasted just 26 minutes, ending on a forehand winner that Serena drilled down the line.

“Come on!” she yelled – her first utterance of the match.

Azarenka finally managed to break Serena’s serve in the second set, but Serena broke back immediately.

“She was striking the ball so hard and so good,” Azarenka said. “She really showed the unbeatable Serena today, I guess.”

Afterward, Serena insisted that there’s room for improvement yet – in her serve, her service return and that brief mental lapse that marred her second set.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to do that within the next match,” Serena said, “and hopefully a match after that.”