FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. – In the two-week, seven-round torture test that is Grand Slam tennis, the one thing players prize, almost above all else, is getting through the rounds as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The shorter the match, the better. The less stress, the better. By such measures, Serena Williams had every reason to be ecstatic about her work shift Tuesday night, when she won the 100th US Open match of her storied career and played as if she had a plane to catch at LaGuardia Airport.
It took Williams only 44 minutes to bludgeon poor Wang Qiang of China out of the quarterfinals, and to advance to her 13th Open semifinal on Thursday, this one against No. 5 Elina Svitolina, a Ukrainian who scored a 6-4, 6-4 triumph over Great Britain’s Johanna Konta in the earlier quarterfinal.
Wang had a marvelous run at the Open, peaking in her fourth-round upset of No. 2 Ashleigh Barty, but Williams almost literally blew her off the court, smoking 25 winners to 0 for Wang.
“The power I cannot handle. Too much for me,” Wang said.
Power, indeed, is the signature quality of Williams, and it has long been so.
Her serve remains the greatest weapon in the sport; she has been broken three times in 46 services games at the Open, and won 79 percent of her first-service points. When she is dominating with the serve, and her punishing groundstrokes behind it, her opponent has little to no chance, though in the post-motherhood phase of her career – very understandably – the 37-year-old Williams is not quite the indomitable force she was previously.
In her quest to tie Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slams, Williams remains stuck at 23, having finished as the runner-up in her last three Slam finals, one of them coming here last year, with Williams getting embroiled in a heated argument over code violations with chair umpire Carlos Ramos and losing in straight sets to Naomi Osaka.
Serena Williams, who has been runner-up in the past three Grand Slams, is looking for No. 24 this weekend in New York. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)
Ramos has not been in the chair for any of Williams’ matches, and he won’t be in the remaining two, if she goes to the final. So she need not concern herself with that – but with ramping up her closing skills.
Osaka broke Williams’ serve four times in the 2018 final, when Williams put just over half of her first serves in play. It was a similar story line in this year’s Wimbledon final, as Simona Halep played virtually a perfect match, breaking Williams’ service four times, with Williams winning just 59 percent of the first serves she put in play.
Williams has won four of her five meetings with the 24-year-old Svitolina, but Svitolina won the last one, on the hard court at the Rio Olympics in 2016. She is expecting nothing but the best from Williams, a six-time Open champion – the first of them coming 20 years ago.
“Obviously Serena is amazing champion,” said Svitolina, who also made the semifinals at Wimbledon. “Probably it’s going to be really tough against her.
“I think I have to run a lot, like all other matches. I played some big hitters in this tournament, a lot, and I have to just react quickly with my feet and with my shots, as well. Then when I have the opportunity, go for it.”
In her nine US Open finals, Williams is 6-3. It’s interesting to note that on the three occasions that Williams has lost the final here, she came back to win the following year. If the pattern continues, she will have finally gotten major No. 24, but first things first.
“She’s obviously a fighter,” Williams said of Svitolina. “She gets a lot of balls back. She doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. She’s one of those players that does everything really well. So I have to do everything well, too.”
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