Serena Williams moved into a 10th US Open final and picked up a record-equaling 101st win in New York by routing Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1, but the number she might still be preoccupied with is 24.
Collecting a 24th major Saturday would tie the American with Margaret Court for tennis’ all-time lead, and the 37-year-old is hoping to get over the finish line after losing her last three grand slam finals — which had never previously happened in her storied three-decade career.
On the other side of the net will be fellow North American Bianca Andreescu, the 19-year-old Canadian who rallied to defeat Belinda Bencic 7-6(3) 7-5 and make a maiden grand slam final.
Williams’ latest setback in a major final occurred at Wimbledon in July, when she was stopped thanks largely to the brilliance of Simona Halep. The Romanian committed a miniscule three unforced errors.
“Wimbledon, Simona played unbelievable,” said Williams. “There was nothing I could do that day. Also, I didn’t have too much time to prep, and playing someone that played that unbelievable was just a deadly combination for me.”
That lack of preparation was because of a knee injury but the knee now better, Williams enjoyed a fruitful training block after Wimbledon prior to competing at the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
Williams ultimately had to retire in the final against home favorite Andreescu due to back spasms and was consoled by her opponent in a moment that went viral.
“I felt more prepared this tournament,” she said. “I joked I trained more for Canada than I did for any other tournament this year.
“I just had a really tough year with injuries, mostly bad luck. I just needed to get injury free.”
And now she seems to be. So is this Williams’ best chance to get to 24?
“I don’t know,” Williams said. “I literally haven’t thought about it this tournament. I’ve been way more chill.”
Svitolina is a similar type of counterpuncher to Halep, but the fifth seed from Ukraine paid the price for not capitalizing on her early opportunities under the lights of Arthur Ashe stadium.
The Wimbledon semifinalist earned three break points straight away, didn’t convert, then was broken from 40-0 to trail 2-0. Those first two games took an extended 15 minutes.
There was more woe for Svitolina and her player box — which included her boyfriend, Gael Monfils, who lost in the quarterfinals Wednesday — when she couldn’t break from 40-0 on the Williams serve at 3-1.
That really was her last chance to gain a foothold.
“I don’t think she played amazing,” Svitolina told reporters. “But she played very high level at the beginning where you had to make a difference. I think that’s what really made a difference today.”
Williams agreed that she wasn’t at her finest, but 34 winners and 20 unforced errors certainly isn’t a shabby differential.
Williams booked a spot in the final almost exactly 20 years after appearing in her first grand slam final at the 1999 US Open, before Andreescu was even born. That gap is a record — another record she owns.
“To be in yet another final, it seems honestly, crazy,” Williams said. “But I don’t really expect too much less.”
Williams tied Chris Evert for top spot in US Open victories. She has spent an economical one hour, 54 minutes combined on court in her last two matches, crushing China’s Wang Qiang in the quarterfinals and surrendering only one set en route to the final.
Williams moving great
Putting the knee injury behind her, Williams moved supremely well in Toronto and looks to have also overcome the back problem as well as the rolled ankle she sustained this week against Petra Martic.
She patrolled the court sublimely to bring up a break point at 1-1 in the second and even, rarely for her, served and volleyed.
Svitolina had won the last time they faced off, though Williams was suffering from a shoulder injury back then at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
It’s all going so well for Williams but the question indeed is whether she can produce in the final and win a major for the first time since becoming a mom to daughter Olympia almost exactly two years ago.
Williams was once unbeatable in grand slam finals, winning eight straight from 2012-2015.
But twelve months ago, she controversially fell to Naomi Osaka at Flushing Meadows.
Though she lacks in experience, Andreescu shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Andreescu has won 13 straight matches, and 23 if you discount a retirement loss to Anett Kontaveit in Miami in March.
“She really knows how to mix up the game and play different shots in different ways,” said Williams. “Above all I just like her as a person. She’s amazing.”
If she upsets Williams, Andreescu would become her country’s first grand slam singles champion and the first female teen to win a major since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 US Open.
Andreescu saved all six break points she faced in the first set of the second semi against Bencic — including a set point at 4-5. Meanwhile, she didn’t manufacture one break point in the set.
Losing the opener stung former teen prodigy Bencic and so did blowing a 5-2 lead in the second.