MELBOURNE, Australia—If you tuned in late to Thursday’s first semifinal, you most likely missed the entire first set. Serena Williams was that explosive early on against Agnieszka Radwanska, winning the first set in just 20 minutes before securing a spot in her seventh Australian Open final, 6-0, 6-4.
The American was facing the world No. 4 for the ninth time and now leads their series 9-0. Before the match Williams talked about how nice Radwanska is and how she considers her a good friend, but she showed no mercy once they stepped on the court.
The first set was over as soon as it began, with Radwanska winning just seven points and Williams blasting 18 winners to her opponent’s one. Williams charged the net 11 times and won 10 of those points.
“I think she started unbelievable, with such a power and speed,” Radwanska said. “I was just standing there kind of watching her playing.”
After the match, a content Radwanska shrugged multiple times, saying Williams was just too good, and there’s nothing she or anyone else could have done.
“It is inspiring, especially that I have a very good run [here],” Radwanska said. “I have so many good matches coming here. You go on court and you lose 6-love in 20 minutes. That’s not what you expect.”
To Radwanska’s credit, instead of panicking or going away, she put her head down and tried to extend points in the second set by using some of her variety to throw Williams off balance.
“She started playing better," Williams said. "It was good for me mentally as well because I was able to recover and do well again.”
Keeping up her impeccable style of play was asking a little too much, even for Williams, who began missing more. The eerily silent crowd came to life as Radwanska won the first game.
The roof, closed due to midday showers, made Rod Laver Arena appear smaller and Williams’ ground strokes look larger. From start to finish, the match was in her hands, and she soon went up 3-1.
But there were some bad patches. Radwanska, benefitting from some Williams errors and buoyed by the crowd, snuck her way back to 3-3. Then came the critical seventh game. With Radwanska going for more, she doubled faulted on game point, but two Williams return errors gave her the lead, 4-3.
And that is exactly when Williams raised her level. Huge serves pulled her back to level terms at 4-4, and a gritty return game put her within four points of the final. Any hope that remained for Radwanska was squashed by three aces and a third-ball winner, sealing the win for Serena in 64 minutes. She would end up with 42 winners to Radwanska’s four, and hit just 17 unforced errors (13 in that second set).
Williams came to Melbourne after taking four months off, needing time to recharge and recuperate after her shocking U.S. Open loss to Roberta Vinci, which ended her chance at a calendar-year Grand Slam. For her level to be this high after that period surprised even her.
“For me it’s just a great thing to be in the final after taking such a long time off,” Williams said.
Radwanska will rise to No. 3 after her showing here in Melbourne, but at times Williams made her look like she was ranked outside the Top 100. It’s just another testament to how dominant Williams is, even at 34, and how determined she is to collect her 22nd career Grand Slam singles title, which would tie Steffi Graf for most in the Open era.
“I don’t think any of the style is good when Serena’s playing like that,” Radwanska said. “If she’s playing her game, it’s a different level … She goes on court and she just want to kill it. Going like full power for everything. So I don’t think anyone can really play on that kind of level at all.”
“I could tell that everyone is really motivated because when they’re playing me they give maximum effort and maximum everything,” Williams said. “It actually makes me a better player, too, because I’m going up against these players that are playing at their peak.”
Based on what we’ve seen so far in Melbourne, even a peak performance may not be enough for Williams’ opponent in the final, Angelique Kerber.