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By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - A Champagne cork popped somewhere on Centre Court four games into Serena Williams's Wimbledon semi-final and while it was a tad premature, her 6-2 6-0 thrashing of Elena Vesnina suggested she could be celebrating something special come Saturday.
The top-seeded American will be taking nothing for granted when she plays Angelique Kerber in the final, having seen her bid to match Steffi Graf's modern era record of grand slam titles stuck one short on 21 for a year, but it was a menacing show of strength, albeit against an overawed opponent.
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She dropped only three points on serve in an embarrassingly one-sided 48 minutes in Thursday's first semi-final -- crunching down one 123mph delivery that topped the women's speed charts at this year's tournament.
From the moment the 34-year-old nonchalantly broke serve in the opening game the writing was on the wall for a leaden-footed Vesnina who lasted three minutes less than Dinara Safina did against Venus Williams in the previous shortest modern era women's semi-final in 2009.
By the time the latecomers shuffled to their seats two games later, Serena was 3-0 ahead and her place in a ninth Wimbledon final, barring a tumble, was already looking a done deal.
She will land a seventh Wimbledon title if she beats Germany's fourth seed Kerber in a repeat of this year's Australian Open final that she surprisingly lost in three sets.
If any more incentive were needed there is family honour at stake after Kerber beat older sister Venus 6-4 6-4 in the second semi-final, denying the 36-year-old a first Wimbledon final since 2009 when Serena beat her.
Serena also has the fresh pain of a French Open final defeat by Garbine Muguruza and there was a steely look in her eye when she spoke to reporters afterwards -- leaving no one in any doubt that finishing runner-up again is not an option.
"I think for anyone else in this whole planet, it would be a wonderful accomplishment (reaching three grand slam finals in a row)," she said. "For me, it's about holding the trophy.
"For me, it's not enough. But I think that's what makes me different. That's what makes me Serena."
World number 50 Vesnina briefly held up Williams in the first set, holding serve twice, but it was futile and she managed only five points in the second as the match raced away in a blur of winners from across the net.
Few of Williams's 85 singles wins at the All England Club could have been easier.
"I felt like the score was going fast," Vesnina, the first unseeded woman to contest a Wimbledon semi since 2011, said.
"I felt like I had no chance today."
While Vesnina, a three-times grand slam doubles champion, managed to raise a smile as she walked off, her performance clearly did not impress three-times men's winner John McEnroe.
"Let's be real, I'm guessing it's a combination of fatigue and her freezing. Her legs looked like they weighed 200 pounds each," was his blunt assessment.
As Vesnina pointed out though, it was all about Serena and if she replicates the form she showed on Thursday it seems the long-awaited 22nd major title will be her's this weekend.
"It will be great to see Serena compete for her 22nd grand slam title, but you always want more competitive matches," said 1999 champion Lindsay Davenport.
"It has been the tournament of Elena Vesnina's life but this was a tough day at the office for her."
(Editing by Clare Lovell/Rex Gowar)