US Open 2018: Unstoppable Serena Williams on cusp of sporting history after clinical win over Anastasija Sevastova

Serena Williams is one step away from equaling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 singles major titles.

Deepti Patwardhan September 07, 2018 13:46:15 IST
US Open 2018: Unstoppable Serena Williams on cusp of sporting history after clinical win over Anastasija Sevastova

“Nothing about me right now is perfect,” Serena Williams told Time magazine recently. “But I’m perfectly Serena.”

An almost perfect version of Serena Williams was on show on Thursday evening, as she powered past Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-0 in the semi-final of the US Open. The 36-year-old Williams, who’s now a working mom, thus earned a place in her second straight Grand Slam final and has another shot at tennis history. She is one step away from equaling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 singles major titles.

US Open 2018 Unstoppable Serena Williams on cusp of sporting history after clinical win over Anastasija Sevastova

Serena Williams hits a return to Anastasija Sevastova in the US Open 2018 semi-final. AFP

A second straight Grand Slam final may not exactly be flattering for a 23-time major champion, one who has held all four Slams twice in her career. But Williams is no longer defined by her tennis alone. Since giving birth to daughter Olympia in September 2017, she is inspiring and empowering working women across the globe. Trying to balance family with the supremely intense life of an elite athlete. And making it look easy.

“It's honestly really incredible,” Williams said after her 66-minute victory over Sevastova. “A year ago I was fighting for literally my life at the hospital after I had the baby. Every day I step on this court I'm so grateful that I have an opportunity to play this sport. No matter what happens in any match, semis, finals, I just feel like I've already won.”

As grateful as Williams is just to be back playing the game, she is just as ferociously competitive. She laid down the marker with a 6-2, 6-1 win over sister Venus in the third round and has lost only one set in six matches so far.

The semi-final is where the American had stumbled during her last two trips to the Open. In 2015, while chasing Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 singles majors, Williams lost to the crafty Roberta Vinci in the semis. A year later, she went down to Karolina Pliskova at the same stage.

This time, in Sevastova, she faced an opponent not just fresh from a confidence-boosting victory over defending champion Sloane Stephens but also someone who could disrupt her hitting rhythm and challenge her movement and speed. The 28-year-old from Latvia, knowing that Stephens likes to counterpunch from behind the baseline, had constantly hassled her with drop shots and innocuous-looking backhand slice. Sevastova tried to be smart against Williams as well and was able to open an early 2-0 lead.

But Williams was quick to spot the pattern. She abandoned her post on the baseline and uncharacteristically darted to the net at every given opportunity. Williams, who prefers to power baseline winners, won 24 points at the net from 28 attempts.

“I just usually come in to shake hands,” she joked after the match.

“I knew playing against (Sevastova), I felt like I needed to get to the net a little bit more. I know how to play at the net. I have great volleys, or else I wouldn't have won so many Grand Slam doubles titles. I know how to do it. It's just the fact of turning it on and actually doing it. Somehow, it worked tonight. I actually did it. I've been training on it, practicing it, and it came together.”

After losing the first two games of the match, Williams won 12 of the next 13, never even facing a break point. She attacked the Latvian’s second serve relentlessly, winning 18 of the 22 points on it. Four aces, 31 winners; it all became a bit too much for Sevastova to handle in her maiden semi-final.

Williams, though, is used to these degrees of excellence, especially in the latter stages of a Grand Slam. Even though blessed with natural athleticism and power, the American has had to work hard to get to a fighting fit shape since returning from pregnancy. In July this year, she suffered the heaviest defeat in her career: a 6-1, 6-0 loss to Johanna Konta in San Jose. Her march to history was interrupted at Wimbledon by Angelique Kerber, who won in two dominating sets. But she has brushed it off to make another searing run in the last Slam of the year.

“I couldn't have predicted this at all,” Williams said. “Just been working really hard. Like I said, this is just the beginning of my return. I'm still on the way up. There's still much more that I plan on doing. You don't reach your best a couple months in. That's kind of where I am now. I just feel like there's a lot of growth to still go in my game. That's actually the most exciting part.”

The American is back on the threshold of history.

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