Serena Williams likes Grand Slam semifinals; coming into her latest one, against Barbora Strycova, she was 31-5 in them. Even better, as far as she’s concerned, are Wimbledon semifinals. Before today, she was 10-1 in those. Her only loss came at the hands of her sister Venus in 2000, when Serena was a teenager. By the time she reaches the the final four, it seems, she can see the finish line, but she’s not yet nervous about having to cross it.
Serena was sensational in the semis again on Thursday. She beat Strycova 6-1, 6-2 with a commandingly balanced and thorough attack. She hit 28 winners to Strycova’s eight, and made just 10 errors. She was 13 of 16 at the net; included in that total were a few deft drop volleys that could have come straight out of one of her mixed-doubles matches with Andy Murray. While she had just four aces, she was 24 of 27 on her first-serve points. She was four of five on break points, and saved all three break points against her. Serena even won more than half of the points on Strycova’s serve.
Serena won cat-and-mouse points at the net, she tracked down drop shots and flicked them for winners, she hooked crosscourt forehand passes and drilled down-the-line backhand passes. When Strycova helped hand her a break at 1-1 in the first set with a botched drop shot, Serena relaxed, and her first-serve percentage immediately rose. Later in the first set, after going down 0-40 in one of her service games, she clamped down and won five points in a row. She closed the set as she has closed so many before, with an ace.
According to Serena, she was occupying just the right mental space in this match.
“I was calm today,” Serena said. “It’s a day-to-day basis for me....I definitely feel like I play better when I’m calm. But it’s definitely an effort. Not getting over-pumped, but at the same time, not getting under-wound. I have to be in that right space.”
She also said that playing mixed doubles had helped sharpen her volley, and given her the confidence to come forward.
“I kept telling you guys I thought the doubles would help me,” Serena said. “I really think it did. I don’t attack the net that much; I tried to and I want to.”
For Serena, though, it all comes back to her health and her fitness. Two and a half years after her last major title, her nagging injuries have finally faded, her training time has increased, and her speed and stamina have returned.
“I just needed to feel good, and that’s it,” she told the BBC. “Now that I feel good, I can do what I do best, and that’s play tennis.”
And play it better than anyone else.