Is it all about Serena?

 - Alix Ramsay

Serena Williams will face Bianca Andreescu in the US Open final.

Serena Williams and Elina Svitolina during their semifinal at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFTl m

If the US Open had not been all about Serena Williams until this point, it most certainly is now.

Serena is through to the US Open final. Again (this is her 10th final in New York). She now stands two sets away from that record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title (of which more later). Again. She has booked her ticket to the big Saturday showdown. Again. And she did it by flattening Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1 in the semi-final.

Strange though it is to say it – indeed, it may be regarded as heresy – Serena has been…best say this quietly...overshadowed in the past 12 days.

 

Serena Williams portrait during 2019 US Open semifinal©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Everything changes

Since the US Open began, there have been big stories at every turn and once the tournament gathered momentum, the headlines were being made by Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer (and their losses), Coco Gauff and her incredible rise, Daniil Medvedev and Matteo Berrettini and their dramatic surge to the top. Serena, meanwhile, just kept scything through the draw with quiet, ominous efficiency.

The way she took on Svitolina was just more of the same. The key to the match was always going to be the start: both women needed to stamp their authority on the night if they were to get their way.



The first couple of games were long and they were tense but when it comes to authority, there are few in the game – male or female – who do it better than Serena. Saving break points in the opening game, she then broke the Svitolina serve and she was on her way. Once she was in charge, there was no way back for Svitolina. Serena just would not allow it.

But now everything changes.

Serena Williams and Elina Svitolina at the net 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Numbers and troubles

Throughout the tournament, Serena has looked utterly focused. Having to play Maria Sharapova in the first round probably helped in that – after that match she happily admitted that she simply would not allow her oldest rival to get a toehold in the contest. She has not looked back since and has dropped just one set so far.

Yet the world No.8 is still human and she does get nervous. She will turn 38 at the end of this month and she knows that nothing and no one – not even she – can go on forever. Chances such as this, another major final, will not come around very often so she must take them when she can.



Few would dispute the fact that she is the greatest player ever to pick up a racket; she just needs the numbers to prove it so that future generations will know just who she was and what she achieved.

Ah, numbers. That is where the trouble starts. In her on-court interview, Serena was happy to talk about her 101st US Open win – it equalled Chris Evert’s record – but Rennae Stubbs (who never shied away from any conflict in her playing days) never dared mention the “24” number. That is only to be spoken of when it is finally achieved. Serena knows what is at stake – she just does not want to think about it until she absolutely has to.

 

Serena Williams walking on the court at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Great for the game

But can she achieve that “24” on Saturday? Standing in her way will be Bianca Andreescu, probably the last person on earth Serena would want to see on the other side of the net. It is not that she does not like Andreescu, it is just that she knows that the Canadian never gives up, never believes she is beaten and when she has been fit this year, she has been unstoppable.

Even when Andreescu seemed to be struggling physically against Belinda Bencic and should, by rights have lost the second set, she thundered back to book her place in the final 7-6, 7-5.

“She's a great player,” Serena said. “She mixes things up. You never know what is going to come from her. She does everything else. She serves well, moves well, has a ton of power. She's very exciting to watch. It's good. I think it's great for women's tennis.”

 

Good for the game but maybe not so good for Serena’s chances of winning that elusive title. If she can stay as focused, calm and utterly ruthless as she has been these past couple of rounds, the title is there to be won.

But if she lets her nerve endings fray, if she shows a hint of weakness to Andreescu, it could be a very different story.

It all comes down to Serena, then. At last, the US Open is all about her.