New York | Serena seals Svitolina for 10th US Open final
As with all Grand Slam finals, there is always a sense of history in the making, regardless of the outcome.
I think today was solid. It definitely wasn't my best tennis, Serena Williams
Playing the first semi-final of the night session on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday, Serena Williams took 2 sets to overcome Elina Svitolina’s challenge to put herself just one win away from a 24th major for the 4th time after defeating the No 5 seed from the Ukraine, 6-3 6-1, to reach her 10th US Open final.
The win gives Williams another chance to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record.
The American, who broke the Open Era record for Grand Slam titles at the 2017 Australian Open, has reached 3 major finals since marrying and giving birth to daughter, Alexis Olympia, all in the hopes of tying Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.
“It’s really good. I mean, to be in yet another final, it seems honestly crazy, but I don’t really expect too much less,” Serena said in her post-match press conference.
The match wasn’t nearly as easy as Williams’ 44-minute quarter-final win over Qiang Wang, and when this match hit the 3/4 hour mark, the first set had only just ended, with the first two games alone lasting 16 minutes.
A six-time champion at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Williams navigated through a tricky start to surge through after 70 minutes on Ashe.
“I think today was solid. It definitely wasn’t my best tennis,” she added. “It’s interesting that she knows that. She’s a super professional to know that.
“She probably could have played better, as well. I definitely know I could have played better. I’m just focusing on not that, just the next match.”
Svitolina had her chances, but Williams fought off 6 break points and, once Williams closed out the first set, she made quick work of the second to win her 101st career match victory at the US Open, tying Chris Evert’s all-time record.
In fact, this was all decided in the first 2 games and any chance for Svitolina to get into Williams’ head evaporated after she squandered 2 break points on Serena’s serve to open the match.
Then, on Svitolina’s next serve, the Ukrainian got up 40-0, blew the game, and fell behind 3-0.
That was all Williams needed to get into the night and play maybe her best tennis since becoming a mother.
She was ferocious, taking out all her angst on the yellow ball, and zoomed about the court like she was 27 and not a 37-year-old mother of a 2-year-old.
After the first set, she received a standing ovation and, taking the momentum into the second set, the No 8 seed raced out to a double break lead at 5-1.
“That’s why she is who she is,’’ Svitolina said. “You are playing in front of the best tennis player in the world.
“If you don’t take it, she just grabs it, and there’s no chance to take it back.
“In the important moments, she always step up, always brings her best game.”
Not always, but on this occasion there were no tantrums or derailments, and she remains on course.
Serena let it all slip away against Naomi Osaka last year, melting down in epic fashion after getting a warning/code violation from chair umpire Carlos Ramos because her coach gave her hand signals.
“I think she’s more relaxed this year, feels less pressure,’’ said one person close to the family.
Serena, who reportedly saw a therapist after last year’s meltdown, confirmed: “I’ve been way more chill.”
Again, she is one win away again from equaling Court, who will not be in attendance since, according to reports, the Open refuses to invite the Australian to Flushing Meadows because of public remarks she has made against the LGBT community.
Billie Jean King supported Serena’s relentless haranguing of Ramos last year and is pulling heavily for history Saturday in the finals.
“It’ll be great if she won this and went on to Australia and broke it,’’ King said on TV. “That’s my prayer.”
Williams admits it has been challenge to be ‘a full-time mom’’ while chasing Court’s tally, and there have been zero titles since she gave birth 2 years ago.
“My day off isn’t a day off,’’ Williams said of motherhood.
Three times she has been one win away from 24 and failed to deliver.
“I would definitely still be playing if I already passed it,’’ Williams said on Thursday. “I’ve had so many chances to pass it and to have a lot more. It’s cool.’’
Things could have been very different from the start, as Svitolina missed her chance to get on the board early on and Williams broke for the 2-0 edge.
“They were long,” Williams said of these first 2 games. “She’s such a good player, obviously. Two semis in a row is really impressive and really hard to do.
“I just wanted to not get off to a slow start and just try to hang in there.”
Williams won the next game to love to take a 3-0 lead when Svitolina held serve and then, once again, had a triple break point.
Down 30-40, Serena rushed the net, hit a winner for deuce and 2 points later, a backhand slam gave her a 4-1 lead.
“Don’t expect that again,” Williams said after the match about her penchant for coming to the net. “That was like, ‘What am I doing at the net? Let me get back to the baseline.’ ”
She played 6 net points in the first set and was 11 of 16 at the net overall and while the opener lasted 41 minutes, Williams needed less than half that time to dispose of Svitolina.
The match was over in an hour and 10 minutes after Williams had delivered 6 aces, and 34 winners versus 20 unforced errors during the contest.
Many of her winners were spectacularly angled bullets, but she still claimed this ‘wasn’t my best tennis’.
In the final game, Serena pulled Svitolina in on a drop shot and passed her with a touch volley.
A point later, Williams sprinted like a gazelle for a drop shot and smacked a crosscourt winner, sending the fans into another frenzy.
Williams was in the interview room when Belinda Benciic and Biana Andreescu were battling in the first set of the second semi-final.
She will face Andreescu in the final when there will be no Ramos, banned from Serena matches, on Saturday night.
Serena shares a record 6 US Open titles with Chris Evert and if she defeats Bianca Andreescu on Saturday, it would be Williams’ 7th singles crown here.
“It’s just impressive,” Williams said, reflecting on the 101st win. “To be in any club with Chrissie [Evert] is just awesome.”
After winning her 23rd career Grand Slam singles title at the 2017 Australian Open, this will be her 4th chance to tie Court’s record.
Serena has been to the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open this year and last, so will this fourth time be her lucky chance?
“I definitely would still be playing if I had already passed it,” Serena says. “I’ve had so many chances to pass it and to have a lot more, but it’s cool because I’m playing in an era, like five eras with so many amazing players.
“If you look at the span of the career, the players I’ve played, it’s amazing that I was able to get this many.”
Dropping just one set en route to the semis, Williams has only looked stronger with each win, allowing Wang Qiang just one game in the quarters.
“I felt more prepared this tournament. Wimbledon I probably had a week to prepare, so that was amazing. Australia, I was super prepared. I did great, then rolled my ankle. I shouldn’t have even played the French Open. That was just a bonus just to compete in another Grand Slam.
“I just feel like I actually had time to train. I joked I trained more for Canada than I did for any other tournament this year, which was kind of funny.
“I just had a really tough year with injuries, mostly bad luck. I just needed to get injury-free.”
Svitolina will likely rue those early lost opportunities, ending the match with a 0 for 6 break point conversion rate and just 11 winners to 17 unforced errors.
Standing between Serena and a 24th major title is the winner of the second women’s semi-final, Bianca Andreescu, who took over 2 hours to overcome No 13 seed Belinda Bencic, 7-6(3) 7-5.
The 19-year old Canadian hasn’t lost a completed match since February, winning the BNP Paribas Open and the Rogers Cup, the latter when Williams retired in the final.
“She really knows how to mix up the game and play different shots in different ways,” she said of Andreescu. “Above all, I just like her as a person. She’s amazing.”
It will not be easy for Serena to get across the line on Saturday as the talented and precocious Andreescu is already making history for herself and is not frightened of anybody.