NEW YORK — While deciphering the usual graffiti of tennis-match statistics in search of the most telltale from Serena Williams’ win Thursday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, fix the eye upon that vigorous little category that would test the neck of any statistician sitting courtside: points with rallies of nine shots or more.
In that column, a 37-year-old mother of a 2-year-old and the winner of a U.S. Open that actually happened last century (1999) appears to have played 13 points against her 24-year-old opponent ranked No. 5 in the world and known for a capacity to slug it around all night long if necessary.
Of those points, the 37-year-old mother of a 2-year-old won 10.
As Williams cruised through Elina Svitolina, 6-3, 6-1, in 70 minutes, and as Williams found her way to a whopping fourth Grand Slam final since giving birth, and as she claimed her fourth chance in the past two seasons to tie Margaret Court atop the all-time list at 24 Grand Slams, and as she roared into a 33rd Grand Slam final that will find her opposite either Bianca Andreescu or Belinda Bencic, that 10-3 number does bolster an impression.
This does look like the best chance of the four, in her movement on the court and her untroubled countenance off it. Quintessential evidence came midway through the second set, when she chased down a decent drop shot, flicked it cross-court for a winner and hovered over a chair, watching it travel and land in pretty obedience.
“I felt more prepared this tournament,” Williams said. “I mean, Wimbledon, I probably had a week to prepare, so that was amazing. Australia, I was super-prepared. I did great, then rolled my ankle [in the quarterfinals against Karolina Pliskova]. I shouldn’t have even played the French Open. That was just a bonus just to compete in another Grand Slam.
“I just feel like I actually had time to train. I joked I trained more for Canada [last month] than I did for any other tournament this year, which is kind of funny.”
She reached the final there with four considerable wins including one over Naomi Osaka, then retired at 3-1 of the first set with back spasms against Andreescu. What seemed an impediment now seems a blip, as Williams will try Saturday to refrain from outcomes which went as follows: a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Angelique Kerber in the 2018 Wimbledon final, a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Osaka in the 2018 U.S. Open final, and a 6-2, 6-2 loss to a sublime Simona Halep in the 2019 Wimbledon final.
If she resembles the player from the semifinal, always a question in a final — “There’s so many different emotions in finals,” she said — it looks like enough against anyone. The winners went 34-11 in her favor. She kept her unforced errors at a manageable 20 (to Svitolina’s 17). And she plied an long-established Williams trade, that of the nerveless sovereignty on the pivotal point.
In the first, second and fifth games, Svitolina, who beat Williams in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in their previous meeting, and who had lost zero sets here, had a combined 12 break points or game points. She got none of those. “Had the chances, but in the same time she played really, really focused and very precise on those two games,” the Ukrainian said.
Twelve moments: four Williams winners, one Williams ace, four forced errors, one Svitolina double fault, two Svitolina unforced errors. Svitolina felt those points gave Williams “the push to play more freely,” but also said, “But, again, that’s why she is who she is. You are playing in front of the best tennis player in the world. If you don’t take it, she just grabs it and there’s no chance to take it back.”
After those five games, Williams led 4-1. In the second set, she became even a notch more airtight, and for good whiles it seemed Svitolina had no way to get a ball past her. Then they concluded and complimented each other, and the sport had come back to a familiar verge.
Williams will try again to match Court, who won 13 of her Grand Slams before the Open Era began in 1968, and 11 more afterward. She will seek her seventh U.S. Open title 20 years after her first, of which she said, “At 17, I thought for sure I’d be retired at 28, 29, living my life. So, yeah, I would have thought [still playing at 37] was a sick joke.”
Saturday will star a player who stopped herself mid-sentence and wisecracked, “It’s cool because I’m playing in an era with — five eras with so many amazing players.” And it will star a player who, at 37, moved around well enough Thursday night to win 10 marathon points out of 13.