CHARLESTON, S.C.—Clay affords returners slightly more time to size up oncoming serves, but green clay, the surface used at the Family Circle Cup, is hardly enough to negate the power of a strong server such as Sam Stosur. And a superb serve is still that even on the red clay courts of Europe and South America. Today, Stosur looked like she was playing on thick, lowcountry grits, what with the cuts Serena Williams was getting on her normally fine serve. The American’s service return was the most devastating shot of her shockingly straightforward, 59-minute, 6-1, 6-1 dismantling.
In what was a foreshadowing pair of points, Serena went ahead 0-30 in the first game in seconds, striking two backhand return winners down the line. Lethal all day, her backhand was useful in finishing points and moving Stosur out of position. Four points into the semifinal, Serena also used it at net, hitting a volley winner for her first of five breaks on the day. Tennis matches typically evolve as games and sets pass by, but Serena’s overpowering opening game, followed by a relatively simple service game, turned out to be the only pattern on display.
How much of this one-way traffic was due to Stosur’s effort on Friday is certainly up for debate. She played parts of six sets because of poor weather on Thursday, including three against Serena’s sister. The physical toll that all took should not be understated. But more than anything, Stosur appeared to fold mentally against Serena. Broken to lose the opening set in under 30 minutes, Stosur offered little resistance once the reset button was hit and the second set began. By the time she double-faulted to go down 4-0, Stosur was merely trying to save face. She avoided a bagel set just in time, holding when down 5-0. Clearly, it was Stosur’s only victory of the day.
All the while, Serena went about her business, the way a player should when their opponent is playing poorly—offering someone a lifeline when they have nothing to lose is a dangerous proposition, even for someone of Serena’s caliber. She never let that happen. The massive returns and big backhands kept coming, along with confident serving and generally outstanding play in all areas of the court. She saved every break point she faced. She even brought out a pirouette fist-pump after her first break of the second set, a signal that perhaps Serena hasn’t forgotten her upset loss to Stosur in last year’s U.S. Open final. That doesn’t bode well for the Aussie—look at what’s happened to Juan Martin del Potro each time he’s played Roger Federer since 2009.
Serena must be considered a huge favorite in the final, where she’ll play either Polona Hercog or Lucie Safarova. In her quarterfinal and semifinal wins, Serena played a total of just 20 games, but in that time, we’ve seen her play some of her most commanding tennis this season. For Serena, anything less than her first title of the season would be considered a significant disappointment.