By Greg Garber
July 5, 2007, 2:22 PM ET
WIMBLEDON, England -- Every year since 1886, the Wimbledon ladies champion has hoisted aloft a sterling silver plate that depicts, with gilt renaissance designs, scenes from Greek mythology.
Temperance, sitting on a chest and holding a lamp in her right hand, is the central figure. One of the four cardinal virtues, Temperance represents the spirit of moderation.
The trophy is known as the Venus Rosewater Dish, and it is a fascinating coincidence -- or is it, technically, irony? -- that a woman from Compton, Calif., named Venus has won it on three occasions. There is growing evidence that there soon will be a fourth.
Temperance, however, will never be a virtue associated with Venus Williams. Playing with pure power, she destroyed another former Grand Slam champion on Thursday, dispatching Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-4. In a span of 20 hours, Williams beat No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova and No. 5 seed Kuznetsova.
Williams will face No. 6 seed Ana Ivanovic in a semifinal match on Friday. Playing in her first match on Centre Court, Ivanovic saved three match points against Nicole Vaidisova and won 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.
"I get up for these matches," Williams said. "I feel like I know what I'm doing. I expect so much from myself. I expect to come off playing very well.
"A lot of it is how I believe in myself."
In 2005, after struggling with a series of injuries, Williams emerged as the Wimbledon champion. She was the lowest-seeded player (No. 14) to ever win the championship. This year, after a 2006 season that was again scarred by injury, Williams was seeded No. 23. This is because she missed the Australian Open with a tender wrist and won only one of the seven tournaments she played, in Memphis.
Coming into Wimbledon, she had lost three of six previous matches -- one of them to Kuznetsova in Warsaw. But something happens to Williams when she steps onto the lawns of the All England Club. Her game, strong and athletic, is perfectly suited to the grass here and her record -- now 49-7 -- proves it.
"I've had a lot of success here," Williams said. "Five finals, which is a lot." Centre Court has just been good to the Williams sisters in the past seven years or so.
"I just think by the time I get here I have a lot of things worked out in my game," Williams said. "Usually, I'm feeling a lot healthier when I get here. I've had a chance to train. I like the surface, I guess."
Williams, in a quick turnaround from the Sharapova match, looked sluggish in her opening service game. She saved two break points, then settled in for what might have been the best single set so far on the ladies' side. Williams broke Kuznetsova in the fourth game with a huge forehand passing shot that landed squarely on the line. Then, on set point, she hit a sharply angled cross-court forehand winner.
Kuznetsova actually played quite well; for example, she saved seven break points in the opening game of the second set. But Williams was just a bit better, mentally and physically.
Thursday's other women's quarterfinal was a battle of teenagers from Eastern Europe; Vaidisova was bidding to reach her third different Grand Slam semifinal. With three match points in the ninth game of the third set (with a 5-3 lead), she seemed destined to get there. But Ivanovic, playing aggressively, saved them all, then broke Vaidisova to draw even.
Vaidisova lost her serve and the match on an aired-out double fault, and Ivanovic, after winning the last four games of the match, was through to her second consecutive Grand Slam singles semifinal. Ivanovic lost to Justine Henin in the finals of the French Open.
Ivanovic, who learned to play tennis in an empty swimming pool growing up in Serbia, seemed stunned at her unlikely comeback.
"I still probably haven't realized what happened," she said. "It was unbelievable match. In the third set, even when I was down a break, I just knew I could do it. I had [the] feeling I could win this match."
A victory over Ivanovic would send Williams into the final against the winner of the Justine Henin-Marion Bartoli semifinal. Henin, the top seed, is expected to win easily.
Williams was asked who she regarded as the favorite for the title.
"Now, why would I say anyone else? Come on," she said. "My self-esteem would have to be quite low if I would name another person."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Simply Stunning, Simply Serena
57 Consecutive Weeks as World #1
Olympic Gold Medalist ('00 Doubles w/ Venus)