Serena Williams moved a step closer to a 19th career Grand Slam Thursday at the Australian Open, defeating fellow American Madison Keys 7-6, 6-2 in the semifinals.
The 19-year-old Keys who beat Venus a day earlier matched Serena power for power for much of the affair, pounding aces and slugging winners from the baseline. But 5-time Australian Open champion wouldn’t be denied.
Serena finished with 13 aces and 19 winners, and the 33-year-old won the contest on her ninth match point of the match after Keys saved seven match points on her serve the game before.
Serena and Maria have met 18 times before with Serena leading 16-2 including 15 straight wins since the 2004 WTA Championships in L.A. No wonder why Serena likes playing her.
The final is Serena’s 23 in a Grand Slam, and once she reaches the final she’s awfully tough taking the trophy in 18 of those title bouts.
Following her win over the teen, Serena talked to the press.
Q. What impressed you most about her game? First time you played her.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, I was impressed by her ability to stay in the match. You know, she never let up at all till the end. I think that is a really great quality to have.
Q. What were you most happy about with your game today?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, I was just happy to get through it today. And I think I was able to serve big when I needed to. So that really helped me out a lot.
Q. What does her ball feel like compared to other players you go up against?
SERENA WILLIAMS: She hits a very, very hard ball, but she also hits it very deep. So it’s a little different trying to prepare for that. But, yeah, so I wasn’t ready really for that.
Q. How is your health? You’ve been coughing a lot during and after matches. Is that something that’s been bothering you for a long time or just the last week or so?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Just the last week, but I’m doing much better. Much better today. Every day I’m getting better. So, yeah, I’m feeling a lot better than I did the past couple of days.
Q. You said on court you were surprised; didn’t expect to be in the finals this time.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah.
Q. Just because of Hopman Cup? You won Singapore, the US Open, why were you thinking it wouldn’t set up for you here?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Wow, put it that way. Yeah, I didn’t play well, I don’t think, at Hopman. I was so off. I felt like I wasn’t moving well. I just wasn’t feeling great on the court. It’s been so long since I’ve even been in a final here. I was kind of like, Oh, let me just try. My theory now is to relax and play the match as best as I can. When I step on the court and hear the announcer, I don’t have to win anymore. I can just relax and have fun.
Q. What would your read be of Madison’s future, how far she can go in the game?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I think she’ll be really good. I think she can go really, really far. I think she can be the best in the world. The way she played today I definitely think she has potential to be No. 1 and win Grand Slams. It’s exciting to see.
Q. Obviously you’re happy to see a young American emerge like this. Explain your thoughts about that.
SERENA WILLIAMS: It great to see her do so well as an American, as well. Myself and my sister, we’ve been fighting so long. Now she’s coming up. So many other Americans, as well. But her in particular, just doing so well consistently. She just has this desire to be the best. That’s what it takes.
Q. She’s almost like the other Williams sister almost, the younger one coming through. Is it just in time for American tennis?
SERENA WILLIAMS: It’s just in time, absolutely. I definitely don’t plan on retiring after this tournament or anything, but, yeah, it’s really good timing to get her in the mix.
Q. Once when it was cold, some wind, mothers were telling your children, Cover up. Don’t stay half naked. But you went with all your back that the wind could touch you. Don’t you think you should cover yourself a little bit more?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, you know, a modern woman now wear modern designs.
Q. Looking forward to the final, all the numbers go your way if we’re looking at statistics in terms of head-to-head and your success here in the finals here in Melbourne. Do you put that stuff out of your head?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Absolutely. Maria is playing great. She’s in the tournament only because she’s a fighter and only because she refuses to give up. So, yeah, it’s a new match. She has nothing to lose, once again. She has only things to gain. And I feel that way, too. I feel I don’t. I’ve won this tournament several times. I don’t have to go out there and have another title. I want it, but it’s not life or death for me. I think that helps me he relax. So, yeah, she absolutely has nothing to lose, and I have nothing to lose, so it will be fun.
Q. Where did this attitude of just playing for fun and not having to win come from?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, it started last year because I was so hyped on getting to 18 and I lost every Grand Slam early. I didn’t make it to any quarterfinals. Then after Wimbledon I decided to just not not necessarily not care, but just relax. It all kind of came back for me after that, so… And I think it’s been working.
Q. What do you remember about your first match against Maria here in ’05? You had a losing head-to-head and saved match points and won.
SERENA WILLIAMS: The only thing I remember is the inside-out forehand on match point. I hit it for a winner. I hit it and I walked to the next side as if I knew it was already going to be a winner. It’s interesting. That’s really the only thing I remember.
Q. Do you remember your reaction surprising you is what you’re saying?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, because I watched it a couple years ago on YouTube. I just remember I hit this forehand inside-out on match point on a good serve. I didn’t react like she was going to get it back. I just walked to the deuce side. I was like, Wow! It’s crazy.
Q. How much pride do you take in your record against her? She’s been probably the second-best player of this era in a lot of ways.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think she’s been a wonderful player this era. She’s so consistent. She just always wants to get better.
Q. How much pride do you take in your record against her?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I don’t know. I take a lot of pride in it. But it’s not one thing I’m thinking about, Well, I don’t want this to happen. I just go out there and play. I think my game matches up well against her. I love playing her. I think it’s fun. I love her intensity. For whatever reason, I love playing. I just have the time of my life.
Q. What do you remember about the last time you lost to her? Do you remember?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah. She was 17, super young, and I think I was basically underhand serving. It was in L.A.
Q. On the men’s side we talk about the great rivalries. Those guys have to talk about how the rivalries have changed over the course of the years. How has that rivalry with you and Maria and that relationship changed over the last 10 or 11 years?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I don’t know. I mean, we don’t play each other that much. Sometimes we do. The past year and a half, two years, we played each other more than we normally do. So, yeah, I don’t know.
Q. When asked about what her confidence level was like coming into the match against you, she said, I’m good enough to be here. That should be all I’m worrying about. Is that the way to approach it?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I think it’s great. I’m happy to be in the final myself. Yeah, hopefully I’ll do better.
Q. How are you feeling? Is it the chest? Is it affecting your running capacity?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I hope not. I’ve been keeping my points short. So we’ll see. But I feel like I’m able to run and stuff, yeah.
Q. A lot of people talk about the specific intensity that you bring to each match, especially against Maria. How do you marry that intensity with what you’re talking about, relaxing and having fun?
SERENA WILLIAMS: That’s a good question. It’s great to have good intensity, and at the same time to keep calm and not get over worked up. That’s what I’ve been working on, making sure I stay super, super intense, but not to a point where it affects my game. I’m always pumped up and always ready, but at the same time I’m like, Always, you need to stay calm at this moment and this point.
Q. Do you consider what you have with Maria a rivalry? Some people would say it’s too one-sided to be called that.
SERENA WILLIAMS: I can’t answer that. I don’t think I can answer that question.
Q. You talk about the second to last game, match point after match point after match point. What was going through your mind?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I don’t know. I just thought I was going to serve it out regardless. I may as well keep fighting. Every time I had a match point, I just pushed instead of going for my shots. Or she hit an ace or a big serve or I hit a weak return because her serve was really well today. She hit it for a winner. I think more than anything she just went for broke at that point. She had nothing to lose times a million, so she just really went for everything.
Q. What is going to be the most important factor in the final against Maria, and how important is getting off to a really good, solid start going to be?
SERENA WILLIAMS: It’s going to be important for me to get off to a good start, I think. With that being said, if not, I’m going to be ready to fight. I think she really wants this. I can see that she wants to do well. She wants to improve her game. She wants to take it to the next level. So, you know, I have to know that she wants to win probably a lot.
Q. This has been a great tournament for you, especially at a times in your career where you haven’t been doing as well elsewhere you were able to manage it here. Have you felt that feeling coming back this time around? You had talked about how it had not been going your way here.
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, but I won the Open and I won some tournaments last year. It’s not like my career was on the brink of destruction, you know. So I don’t know. I seem to do well in Australia when my career is a little shaky. But I won a couple times when it wasn’t so shaky.
Q. It’s like a title fight, the No. 1 and 2 against each other.
SERENA WILLIAMS: I think it’s great for women’s tennis. I think it’s good for me and Maria. I’m excited. Like I said, I love playing her. I look forward to it. I didn’t expect to get to the finals of this tournament when I first got here because I wasn’t playing great. So I’m happy to be here. Yeah, I’m just happy, like I said, to get past the quarterfinals of a slam. Fourth round actually, outside the Open.
Q. What do you make of having a good number of African Americans in the top 100?
SERENA WILLIAMS: It’s great. I think it’s wonderful. Myself and Venus have been playing for years. It’s so good to see people of different color be able to play a sport that was, you know, once dominated by one race.
Q. Do you attribute it to anything other than you and Venus inspiring them?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, you can’t put everything on me and Venus. I think there were so many other African American players, like Althea Gibson, Zina Garrison, Lori McNeil, Camille Benjamin. There has been so many players that have done really, really well and inspired us to play. I still talk to Zina all the time and she inspires me. Just knowing what she’s gone through makes me want to work harder.
Q. Do you let yourself envision holding up the trophy at the end of the tournament?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I did in the first couple rounds because I wasn’t playing great. I thought, Just think of the end, think of the end. And I’m still here, so let’s see.
Q. What about coaching in the future? A Fed Cup captain role or something like that in the future?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I could see that. I love going to the Olympics to trade pins. I think that’s my ticket in. I could definitely see me doing Fed Cup work.
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