Serena Williams stands one match away from winning her first Grand Slam title since becoming a mother and her 24th overall after she powered into the US Open final.
Surging to the net and roared on by a boisterous crowd on a covered Arthur Ashe Stadium, the 36-year-old American ended up crushing her friendless opponent Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-0 in just 66 minutes.
She can now equal Margaret Court’s tally of major singles championships if she can defeat either compatriot Madison Keys or Japan’s Naomi Osaka, who were playing in the second semi-final. Saturday will be her 31st final.
Barely a year after giving birth to daughter Olympia, Williams is on the cusp of regaining her winning ways at nearly 37 years old, having returned to the tour in March but only recent rediscovered the movement necessary to triumph.
‘I just was like “I’ve got to play a little better”, the crowd helped me out after the first two games,’ she said of her start. ‘They wanted to see me play and I wanted to give them the best that I can.
‘I’ve been working hard on my volleys and I have won a few doubles championships so I know how to volley, I usually just come in to shake hands and knew if I wanted to have a chance I had to come in (to the net). I wanted to try something different today and it worked in my favour.
It’s honestly incredible (a year ago) I was fighting literally for my life in the hospital after I had the baby so every time I step on court I am grateful for the opportunity to play this sport, every time I play I feel like I’ve already won.
‘I’m just beginning, this has only been a few months.’
Sevastova, 28, has soared into the top 20 after resuming her career, having quit for two years in her early twenties when she became disillusioned with the game.
The US Open has been her most successful Grand Slam and she has had big match experience on the Arthur Ashe Stadium before, having brought Maria Sharapova’s high profile run to an end last year in the fourth round.
The roof had been closed all day on what promised to be the last of the heatwave that had engulfed the tournament. It would have been needed with rain starting to fall outside at the start.
Williams was attempting to avoid a third successive defeat at this stage and, despite being the massive crowd favourite, again looked edgy at the start, as she had in the previous round against Karolina Pliskova.
She immediately lost her serve but then broke back to level at 2-2 after the Latvian’s clever dropshots began to misfire.
It did not take her long to get into her stride and use her superior firepower to start overwhelming a neat but non-lethal opponent. Five consecutive games put Williams in command as she started coming into the net and volleying like Martina Navratilova.
Williams stayed on the charge and Sevastova’s morale sagged as she was broken twice in the second set, her elegant backhand letting her down and it was one-way traffic from there onwards with Williams winning twelve of the last thirteen games.