Serena Williams swept past Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-0 on Thursday and into the final of the US Open to sit one win away from a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title to continue her remarkable return to the top levels of the game after she almost died while having a baby last year.
Williams walked off Arthur Ashe Stadium court with a wave and twirl to await the winner of the other semi-final between Japan’s Naomi Osaka and American Madison Keys, who lost last year’s final to Sloane Stephens.
Just seven months and seven tournaments removed from returning to competition following the birth of her first child, Williams was back at her ruthless best and needed just 66 minutes to beat the 19th seeded Latvian and reach her 31st Grand Slam final.
A win on Saturday would also give the 36-year-old American a seventh US Open title, breaking a tie with Chris Evert for the most in the Open era.
“It is really incredible, a year ago I was literally fighting for my life at the hospital after having the baby,” said Williams, who missed last year’s US Open due to the birth of her child.
“Every day I step out on this court I am so grateful to have an opportunity to play this sport.
“So no matter what happens in any match, semis, finals I already feel like I have already won.”
It will be the second consecutive Grand Slam final for Williams who came agonisingly close to matching Margaret Court’s record of 24 majors at Wimbledon but was beaten by Angelique Kerber.
Sevastova arrived at her first Grand Slam semi-final riding a wave of momentum built from a fourth-round win over seventh seed Elina Svitolina and a quarter-final demolition of defending champion and third seed Sloane Stephens.
That confidence jumped when the 29-year-old broke Williams to open the match then held for a 2-0 lead as an uneasy hush fell over the Arthur Ashe show court.
But Williams, who had dropped just one set on way to the last four, quickly restored order as she charged the net one moment and pounded winners from the baseline the next that left her opponent stunned as the American won 12 of the next 13 games.
“I know how to volley, I usually come in just to shake hands,” said Williams.
“But tonight I thought I am playing such a good player I knew if I wanted to have a chance tonight I had to come in.”
Sevastova leaves US Open ‘more confident’
The 19th seed Latvian may be disappointed with the outcome, Sevastovoa said she left her first Grand Slam semi-final with a sense of accomplishment.
Asked what positives she was talking away from Flushing Meadows, Sevastova said it was the realisation that she could “play with the best players in the world”.
“I beat two top-10 players. I was playing (an) okay match today, maybe not my best tennis,” Sevastova told reporters after the match. “Yeah, just knowing that I can be there, that I’m first time semi-finals.
“I need a couple of days to let it sink in. Maybe I’m more confident now.”
Sevastova’s performance at this year’s tournament, during which she dispatched 2017 champion Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals, marked the culmination of a long road back.
With persistent injuries plaguing her early years as a professional, she decided to retire in 2013.
But Sevastova came storming back to the sport in 2015 and clinched a US Open quarter-final berth in 2016, her first appearance in the last eight at a Grand Slam. She repeated the feat last year.
Reflecting on Thursday’s match, Sevastova said Williams was simply too tough to beat.
“When she’s in front, it’s tough to play,” Sevastova said. “She stayed focused in the second set. I tried on her games, but she served well. I returned okay I think for my standards. But when somebody serves 123 miles-per-hour ace, not much you can do.”