Pressure, not Venus, arguably Serena's toughest opponent in Saturday's final

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It was three years ago that Serena Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, began plotting her path to Grand Slam No. 22, the gold standard in women's tennis.

Williams had long been on pace, dominating the tour. When she finally achieved that goal last summer at Wimbledon, Williams said the pressure to win more titles had immediately vanished. And while we can argue she felt the jitters a couple months later in New York, where she fell in the semifinals, it's apparent that as the new year has begun, she believes she's playing with house money.

Serena played unhinged tennis in a dominating 6-2, 6-1 victory against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in Thursday's Australian Open semifinals. It was clear she was as content as she could have imagined.

Bu that pleasure of relaxation could change come Saturday when she looks across the net and sees her older sister, Venus Williams, staring her down.

"It's the one time that I really genuinely feel like no matter what happens, I can't lose, she can't lose," Serena said of Venus, who earlier in the night beat American Coco Vandeweghe 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3 to reach her first Grand Slam final since the 2009 Wimbledon championships. "It's going to be a great situation."

Taking it a step further, Serena calls it the "best-case scenario," a win-win for the family. Hard to believe, but the last time they met in a major final was that '09 battle at the All England Club, which younger sister Serena won.

"I think just going through that [stress] made me this way now, to be honest," Serena said. "I think sometimes when you're stressed out, you have to go through those moments. Everything creates a better you."

While Serena might not feel the same amount of pressure typically associated with Grand Slam titles, it will be emotional, intense and quite possibly a classic, something we haven't seen often when they've played.

A win for Venus, 8½ years after the last of her seven Grand Slam titles, would be little short of miraculous, a triumph over adversity as she continues to battle with Sjogren's syndrome, a disease that causes chronic fatigue and muscle soreness.

How she recovers from 2 hours, 26 minutes of battle against Vandeweghe will be key, but as always, she is never 100 percent sure how she is going to feel when she wakes up on any given day.

The sisters have won 29 Grand Slam titles between them. They have lived together and shared the highs and lows in both careers, and here they are again, more than 15 years after their first major final.

A win for Serena against her sister -- as she has in seven of the past eight contests -- would give her the Open era record of 23 Grand Slam wins. But it would be Venus who would be the one standing with the runner-up trophy.

"I'm really proud of myself here," Serena said. "I feel like a lot of people were kind of writing me off, but it is what it is. I do best when I'm that underdog, I guess."

With 22 Grand Slams and in superb form, she's anything but an underdog. It's just a matter of whether she can continue to withstand the pressure.