The next stop on Serena Williams’ journey back to tennis supremacy will be the final of the U.S. Open, where she can match the record of 24 Grand Slam singles championships.
Williams, who gave birth to a daughter just over a year ago and soon after endured serious complications, defeated Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-3, 6-0 in the semifinals on Thursday under the closed roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Williams, 36, had a tentative start on Thursday — as she did in her quarterfinal victory over Karolina Pliskova — but she quickly adjusted to Sevastova’s tactics and won five straight games to seize control of the set. Sevastova, flagging in the face of Williams’ growing dominance, lost her feistiness in the second set and didn’t have the strength or skills to stop Williams.
Initially taken aback by Sevastova’s drop shots and slices, Williams was broken in her first service game but soon began to counter by coming to the net far more often than she usually does when she plays her usual power game. Coming to the net put her in better position to respond successfully to those backhand slices and drop shots. She won 24 of 28 points at the net.
“I usually just come in only to shake hands,” Williams joked in a post-match interview on the court. “But I thought, ‘Tonight, I’m playing such a good player.’ … I wanted to try something different and it worked in my favor.”
Williams blitzed through the second set, delighting a crowd that has supported her solidly throughout this tournament. “The crowd was so intense and helped me out after [losing] those first two games,” she said. Sevastova, a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist, didn’t play nearly as well as she had in defeating 2017 U.S Open champion Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals. But a major reason for that was the solid play of Williams, a six-time champion here.
Williams on Saturday will play in her ninth U.S. Open final. She will face the winner of Thursday’s second semifinal match, between 20-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan and 23-year-old Madison Keys of the U.S.
The record for most Grand Slam singles titles is held by Margaret Court.
Saturday’s final also will be Williams’ 31st appearance in a Grand Slam event. “A year ago I was fighting for my life, literally, after having a baby,” she said, her voice choking up.
Williams gave birth to a daughter, Alexis Olympia, on Sept. 1, 2017 via cesearean section. She later developed life-threatening blood clots and did not return to tournament play until last March, at Indian Wells. She has had inconsistent results but did reach the final at Wimbledon, where she lost to Angelique Kerber.
“I’m just beginning,” she said Thursday, though her journey back to the top of the rankings seems to be far advanced