ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
PARIS — Done with a dominating performance in the French Open semifinals, Serena Williams climbed the stairs leading from the locker room to the players’ lounge, looking to give her mother a hug.
Smiling widely all the while, Williams greeted visitors, posed for photos, and signed autographs on her way.
It’s been more than a decade since she was so happy — and played so well — this deep in the tournament at Roland Garros.
Coming as close to perfect as seems possible, Williams absolutely overwhelmed last year’s runner-up, fifth-seeded Sara Errani of Italy, 6-0, 6-1 in a mere 46 minutes Thursday to reach the final for the first time since winning her lone French Open championship in 2002.
“It doesn’t seem like that long ago,” Williams said, “even though it was.”
To collect her 16th Grand Slam title Saturday, Williams will need to beat defending champion Maria Sharapova, who put aside 11 double-faults and got past third-seeded Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 in a much more competitive semifinal.
The final features the top two women in the rankings and seedings, No. 1 Williams and No. 2 Sharapova. They are 1-2 among active players in French Open match wins, Williams with 45, Sharapova with 43.
And they are two of three active women with more than two major championships; Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam in Paris last year with No. 4.
Plus, Williams has won a career-best 30 consecutive matches, the longest single-season streak on tour since 2000. Sharapova has won 13 consecutive matches in Paris.
Despite all of that, this one doesn’t shape up as much of an even matchup, because Williams is 13-2 against Sharapova, winning the last 12.
“Well, I’d be lying if it doesn’t bother me, obviously,” said Sharapova, who last defeated Williams all the way back in 2004, at Wimbledon and the WTA Championships. “Whatever I did in the past hasn’t worked, so I’ll have to try to do something different.”
Williams never gave Errani a chance to switch things up.
Errani, Williams’ coach Patrick Moratouglou explained, “needs to rally, she needs to run, and then she’s really, really dangerous.” But, he continued, Williams “decided to refuse to let her play.”
Simple as that.
The 31-year-old American won the first nine games. When Errani finally got on the board, 37 minutes in, she raised both arms overhead as the crowd roared.
Williams accumulated a 40-2 discrepancy in winners — yes, 40-2! — showing off a full array of talents. She won 28 of 33 points she served, helped by five aces, including one at 123 mph (199 kph). She smacked 10 return winners. She mixed in overhead smashes, powerful groundstrokes, even a drop shot.
“She was playing,” Williams’ mother, Oracene Price, summed up, “like Serena of old.”
It felt like a routine first-round match for one of the sport’s greats against a qualifier or wild-card recipient ranked somewhere in the 200s, not someone ranked No. 5 and a semifinalist at three of the past five major tournaments.