And then there were four. Despite the best efforts of the Weather Gods to disrupt this Wimbledon Championships, organisers have somehow managed to make it to the last four of the women's draw (at least) on time. Admittedly, they were forced to break protocol and move a couple of matches from Court One to Centre, but who's complaining? Not us.
Because at just after 10 pm under the glare of the finely crafted Centre Court roof – worth every one of the reported £80 million it cost – Maria Kirilenko shanked a forehand and handed Agnieszka Radwanska a semifinal berth at the Championships – and her first ever Grand Slam semi.
More importantly, perhaps, the result keeps her in the running for the Number One spot at the end of the tournament (after Sharapova’s fourth round loss, if Radwanska wins the title and Azarenka loses to Williams then the Pole takes the top spot). Like Rawanska, her opponent in the semis, Angelique Kerber, was moving quietly and somewhat effortlessly through the draw until the quarterfinals. And like Agnieszka, Kerber has never made a Wimbledon semi. In fact, she's never made it past the third round.
Neither player had dropped a set en route to the quarters, before both came perilously close to losing matches against their respective opponents. But that should merely add to the spice of the occasion as over the course of the year both Radwanska and Kerber have amassed impressive stats off the back of mental resolve and very different styles of play. Radwanska, the tricky counter-puncher, is now 40-0 in wins this season after taking the first set of a match; Kerber, meanwhile, is an all-out slugger who was outside the top 100 this time last year (she’s currently world No. 8) and has won more matches on the Tour this year (45) than anyone else.
The pair has played each other four times with their mini-series tied at 2-2. And aside from a Kerber retirement in the second set of their first meeting back in 2008, every match has gone to three sets. What separates the two at this stage? Possibly Radwanska’s ability to close out a match. Kerber has let plenty of match points slip away at Wimbledon and at Eastbourne before it, while Radwanska rarely seems phased at any stage of a match. It should be intriguing.
If Radwanska and Kerber keep us guessing, what can you say about Serena Williams against Azarenka? Well, if you're in the Belarussian’s camp for this one the first thing you should probably say is don't look at the stats. If you do, you'll see that Vika has won just one of their last eight meetings, and that was back in 2009.
But Azarenka isn't the world No.2 by accident. Of course, there was the Australian Open triumph, but there was also Sydney, Miami and Doha, not to mention final appearances in Stuttgart and Madrid. However, while Azarenka was on a Djokovic-esque run at the start of the year, it's safe to say that it came to a stuttering halt in the second quarter of 2012 as the rigours of the Tour started to take their toll. Something has changed since she arrived in SW19, though, and the old Vika appears to be back. Admittedly she benefitted from a favourable draw to 'ease' her way into the second week, but if her demolition of Ana Ivanovic was ruthless, her win over the in-form Tamira Paszek (who was on a nine-match win streak on grass) was simply impressive. If she can keep her head when facing Serena, Azarenka should be on for her second Slam of 2012.
If she can keep her head... Because on the other side of the net is a quite formidable foe. And the only one who knows what it is like to step out on Centre Court for the finals of the Wimbledon Championships. Four-times a winner, twice a runner-up, Serena Williams looks every bit the Champion-elect at the moment.
No, she hasn't made it easy for herself. Three sets against Zheng Jie were tough (as expected), but the next three against Yaroslava Shvedova were much more difficult than they probably should have been. Admittedly, the more time that Serena has on court the better she gets (as evidenced by her straight sets win over Petra Kvitova), but even Serena would probably admit that she's not playing her best tennis at the moment. The thing is, all indications are that Serena doesn't really need to play her best tennis to win this thing. What she might lack in absolute match sharpness she makes up for in will and spirit and the fact that she's, well, Serena.
And if Azarenka is to stand any chance of making her first Wimbledon final you feel that she is not only going to have to play out of her skin, but forget who she is playing out of her skin against.