Serena breaks a sweat, earns final

NEW YORK -- It was almost as if, up 6-0, 1-0 in her US Open semifinal Friday against Li Na and riding a 24-game streak that included her quarterfinal bagel, Serena Williams needed a little drama.

But after allowing the tournament's fifth seed and fellow 31-year-old to hold in the second game of the second set, to break her in the next game to take a 2-1 lead, and then get off to a 40-0 lead in the third game, that was quite enough for the defending champ.

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Although her 24-game win streak ended in the second set against Li Na, Serena Williams has been in sharp focus on her way to Sunday's final.

Perhaps Williams remembered that the only time Li had beaten her in their previous nine matches, Li had also dropped the first set 6-0. Or maybe Williams recalled that she has lost here only nine times in 79 matches, and lost only four times this year in 70 matches.

Williams won 10 of the next 13 points to break back and then hold serve to regain the lead at 3-2. She then rode the new burst of momentum to break Li once more and eventually close out the victory 6-0, 6-3, setting up a much-anticipated rematch of last year's Open final against Victoria Azarenka.

“Just to be able to defend a title for once would be really awesome,” said Williams, who is going for her fifth Open title. “I have done so well here the past few times I have played, just getting to the semis or getting to the finals. It’s been really, really exciting, so I'm really happy that I have been able to just consistently do well here.”

Li was not exactly a semifinal patsy. Summoning a will worthy of a Grand Slam semifinal but certainly not shocking for the 2011 French Open champion, Li fought off six match points on her serve and down 5-2, before holding in a nearly 14-minute game.

Just as impressive was Williams' effort in trying to break before closing out the match on serve in the next game.

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Li Na admitted to being nervous in the semifinal against Serena Williams, saying she couldn't seem to focus.

“I think Li Na may have been a little off, but I think it was because I started out so well and then she may have not played her best,” said Williams, who has dropped just 16 games through six matches here, the fewest games she has ever lost entering a grand slam final. “But I think she played well. I thought towards the end, a very quality match.”

Li, who admitted to nerves in her quarterfinal match, said she felt similarly Friday.

"I should not be nervous because it's not my first time to play the semifinals," Li said. "But when I walked on court, I was feeling the court was so big. It felt like a football [field]. To Serena, it was table tennis. I could not focus."

In the end, they gave the 22,498 fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium and those at home some competitive, if not exactly dramatic, tennis. And playing the Superwoman role to the hilt, Serena did a quick change afterward and took the court for a semifinal doubles match with sister Venus (they lost in straight sets to Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka).

In advancing to her 21st Grand Slam final and attempting to win her fifth US Open title, Williams won 85 percent of her first serves in the first set compared to 43 percent for Li, who had come into the match leading all women with 29 aces.

It was a gap that closed only slightly in the second and a stat that does not bode well for Azarenka, who continued to struggle with her serve Friday.

“I know her game as well as she knows mine,” Williams said. “She knows what I do great, what I do bad, and what I can do better. I know the same thing. At this point, it's just all about just playing some tennis now."

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