Serena Williams - 2011 US Open - Day 13

As she comfortably brushed aside the world #1 on Saturday night, Serena emanated a steely resolve that wavered only briefly in her final service game and dissolved only with her euphoric victory celebration.  Almost more intimidating than her fist pumps was the imperturbable, clear-headed calm (“serenity?”) with which she dispatched Wozniacki, the type of fleet-footed defender who has troubled her before.  With a fourth US Open crown and 14th major title within range, the three-time champion will hope to maintain that composure into a Sunday encounter seemingly less likely to test her nerves.  Although she has lost twice to Stosur, including once at a major, Serena conquered her with ease in the Rogers Cup final this summer and has lost only one Slam championship tilt to an opponent other than her sister.  The former #1 cracked 11 aces and several service winners against Wozniacki, almost always delivering her first serve when she most needed it.  While her flat bombs down the center service line won plenty of free points, her swerving serves out wide opened up huge swathes of court and kept opponents as agile as the Dane or Azarenka off balance.  Behind such a formidable shot, Serena should control most of her service games against an opponent with limited defensive skills.  In fact, this final should feature relatively few breaks of serve, for across the net stands a server more imposing than anyone whom she has encountered in the fortnight.  Setting up her heavy forehand, Stosur’s kick serves thrust her victims out of their comfort zone by forcing them to swing above their normal contact point.  Like Serena, moreover, the Australian possesses a penetrating but still safe second serve that rarely falters under pressure.

Less steady in that regard is her two-handed backhand, which likely will prove the decisive factor in the title bout. Although Stosur has struck that shot with greater authority here, Serena still enjoys a substantial advantage in that department and can expect to win the vast majority of backhand-to-backhand rallies.  In their previous meetings, the world #10 sometimes has concealed that glaring flaw by running around it to hit forehands, but more often than not that tactic has exposed too much court to the American’s scintillating shot-making prowess.  A bold shot-maker as well, Stosur will want to ensure that she strikes a winner or a near-winner in situations when she hits a forehand from the backhand side of the court, for no player can produce offense from a defensive position as easily as Serena.  The three-time US Open champion almost seems most dangerous when she uses her instincts and reflexes to strike shots on the run, propelling her muscular frame into the ball.  Armed with a similarly bulging biceps, Stosur excels when she has more time to set her feet and position herself at the ideal distance from the ball, a task that comes less naturally to her.  Serena thus will seek to stretch her laterally along the baseline in fast-paced exchanges that showcase natural athleticism over programmatic point construction.  To best threaten the American, Stosur should consider hitting behind her at times rather than always aiming for the open court.  Not the most adept at reversing direction, Serena covers most angles with aplomb before crafting an even more vicious angle herself.

Emerging triumphant from three three-setters during this eventful fortnight, Stosur has set the record for the longest US Open women’s match and the longest US Open women’s tiebreak.  Those statistical achievements illustrate the effort that she has expended in reaching the final weekend, and this understated, very human Aussie can feel confident that she has earned her berth in the final.  Struggling with self-belief at significant moments in her career, Stosur also can reflect upon her victory over Serena at Roland Garros last year, when she erased a match point before prevailing in a three-set epic.  She owns more victories against the American than all of the latter’s previous opponents combined, for she also overcame her on North American hard courts at Stanford in 2009.  On days when her serve strikes its targets, Stosur can compete with anyone in the WTA, and she came within a point of a 5-4 lead against Serena in the first set of the Toronto final.  Offering her a ray of hope is the fragility that the younger Williams has shown sporadically when finishing matches or sets.  Three times, Serena dropped serve when serving for the set or match against Azarenka and Wozniacki.  Despite her substantial lead at the Rogers Cup, she also wobbled when securing the championship-clinching game.  If Stosur can stay within range until that time, therefore, those uncharacteristic nerves might return to fluster Serena.  On the other hand, no player has won more than seven games from her this tournament or held a lead of more than one game.  En route to the final, Stosur never has played a match on Arthur Ashe following perverse scheduling by the USTA.  Likely daunted by the magnitude of both the surroundings and the opponent, she faces a towering task in breaking through the shell of serenity around Serena.

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