Serena Williams hits a forehand against Anastasija Sevastova in their U.S. Open semifinal match on Sept. 6, 2018, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

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Liguori: Serena Williams Reflects On How Far She's Come Since Difficult Child Birth

Eyes Record-Tying 24th Grand Slam Title Saturday At US Open

Ann Liguori
September 07, 2018 - 11:40 am

Five-time U.S. Open champ Serena Williams advanced to her 31st major final with a 6-3, 6-0 thrashing of Anastasija Sevastova on Thursday night. The entire match lasted 66 minutes.

After dropping the first two games, Williams settled in under the closed roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium, and with her overpowering serve and groundstrokes, made quick work of her semifinal matchup against the 19th seed from Latvia, whom she had never played before. Serena rushed to the net much more than she has in the past, winning 24 of 28 points there. It was a solid strategy. She didn’t have to extend too much energy rallying against Sevastova, who normally combines a mixture of shots, spins and slices. It was Sevastova’s first appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal.

“I knew playing against her ... I needed to get to the net a little bit more," Williams said. "I know how to play at the net. I have great volleys, or else I wouldn't have won so many Grand Slam doubles title. I know how to do it. It's just the fact of turning it on and actually doing it.

“Somehow it worked tonight. I actually did it. I've been training on it, practicing it, and it came together.”

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Williams will next play Naomi Osaka in the women’s final Saturday afternoon. Osaka looked impressive in her first-ever Grand Slam semifinal, against 14th-seeded Madison Keys, the 2017 runner-up, beating her 6-2, 6-4. Osaka, the No. 20 seed, saved all 13 break points against her in the match.

The 20-year-old Osaka was born in Japan but has been in the United States since she was 3 years old. She lives and trains in Florida.

Osaka has a powerful serve as well, reaching 119 mph. She’s very quick on the court, and even though she idolizes Williams, she won’t be overwhelmed by her power and stature on the court, I believe.

"Um, of course it feels a little bit, like, surreal," said Osaka, when asked about playing Williams in her first Grand Slam final. "Even when I was a little kid, I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam. Just the fact that it's happening, I'm very happy about it.

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"At the same time, I feel like even though I should enjoy this moment, I should still think of it as another match. Yeah, I shouldn't really think of her as, like, my idol. I should just try to play her as an opponent."

Williams should beat Osaka. The nerves will be there. But once Williams gets her serve working, her confidence will kick in and she should be able to win a 24th major title, tying Margaret Court’s longstanding record for most Grand Slam singles titles won by a woman.

A year ago, Williams was giving birth to her daughter. She had difficulty with the delivery recovery, and it was quite serious.

“I got a little emotional out there because last year I was literally fighting for my life in the hospital," Williams said after her win Thursday night. "I think I was on my fourth surgery by now. What is today? I was on my third surgery. I had one more to go still.

“To come from that, in the hospital bed, not being able to move and walk and do anything, now only a year later, I'm not training, but I'm actually in these finals, in two in a row. Like I said, this is the beginning. I'm not there yet. I'm on the climb still.

“I just feel like not only is my future bright, even though I'm not a spring chicken, but I still have a very, very bright future," the soon-to-be 37-year-old added, laughing. "That is super exciting for me.”

What’s remarkable is that Williams is playing and winning while not feeling 100 percent back to normal yet since giving birth.

“I definitely don't feel myself yet,” she admitted. “I'm definitely not there. I don't feel like me. I think it takes time. My mom said it takes, like, a full year to kind of get back. I'm at a full year now. But I'm also playing a sport professionally. The emotions and expectations and all the other stuff that you add on top of it, it's a lot.

“I just feel like I'm definitely not there. Even my body is different. Like, I actually weigh less than I did before I got pregnant, but it's distributed differently now.”

It’s difficult to imagine how good Williams would be when she is there. More records to be broken, for sure, as the legend of Serena Williams will continue to grow.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.