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Beyond the Baseline

Serena Williams rolls past Li Na in U.S. Open semifinals

Serena Williams Serena Williams is one victory away from her fifth U.S. Open title. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Serena Williams will get a shot at her fifth U.S. Open title after beating Li Na 6-0, 6-3 in the semifinals on Friday.

Williams' run of 24 consecutive games won in the tournament ended when Li evened the second set at 1-1. The streak covered the conclusion of Williams' fourth-round match against Sloane Stephens, a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarterfinals and the first seven games against Li.

It was another strong performance from the defending champion, who overcame a late wobble to finally convert her seventh match point to advance to her second major final of the season (Williams won the French Open).

Williams will face No. 2 Victoria Azarenka on Sunday in a rematch of last year's final, which Serena won 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. The last time the U.S Open singles final featured a rematch in back-to-back years was in 2001 and 2002, when Serena and her sister Venus contested both.

Serena is 12-3 against Azarenka. But Azarenka has beaten Serena in two hard-court finals this year, including a three-set win in Cincinnati last month.

Game-by-game analysis of Serena's dominating win over Li after the jump.


Second set

6:12 pm. ET | Serena Williams defeats Li Na 6-0, 6-3 to advance to the U.S. Open final.

Li saves six match points in a 13-minute game to hold. Best game of the match. Tremendous effort from both ladies there. Serena played that game as though it was a third-set tiebreak in a final. No letdown, not willing to give away anything. For Li, that was all pride.

What a weird ending to the match as Serena gets incredibly intense despite a 6-0, 5-3 lead. How much of that is tension or respect for Li's abilities, I'm not sure, but she's screaming at herself, her fist, her box and anyone else who will listen. On her seventh match point, Serena finally converts and she lets out a huge roar (multiple times, really) before shaking hands with Li. She was in some kind of head space there.

Here are the final stats:

Serena: 4 aces, 1 double fault, winning 85 percent first serves, 19 winners, 20 unforced errors, 5-for-11 on break points, 6-for-11 at the net.

Li: 0 aces, 4 double faults, winning 43 percent first serves, 8 winners, 24 unforced errors, 1-for-4 on break points, 13-for-19 at the net.

5:49 pm. ET | Serena breaks, leads *5-2.

Once again, Li builds a good lead on her service game only to blow it. Up 30-love, she spends too much energy getting run around by Serena and loses the next four points. Mary Carillo says Li is getting tight on those big points, but I also think Serena has been playing them much better. Her two best points in that game came to get back to 30-30.

Pushing it to a third looks like an impossible task for Li now. With an ace, Serena holds to 5-2.

https://twitter.com/ATNtennis/status/376100151548325888

That's right, Serena still has doubles after this match. While I understand television's desire to get Serena closer to the prime-time block on CBS, it's questionable scheduling when they could have put her on as the first match, then have Azarenka-Pennetta, and then follow that up with the Williams sisters' doubles match. In the grand scheme, it doesn't matter too much. The women's final isn't until Sunday, though the doubles final is Saturday.

https://twitter.com/TomPerrotta/status/376099082600992769

5:42 pm. ET | Serena holds, leads 3-2*.

Li builds a 40-0 lead, but Serena fights back to deuce. Serena is actually taking a bit of pace off her ball and pushing a little bit more, an approach that has caught Li off guard.

At deuce, Li opts to get herself to the net as quickly as possible and sticks a forehand volley for a winner. Coach Carlos loves it. But three backhand errors later and Serena gets the break back and consolidates.

Coach Carlos said the key to this match was mental for Li, who has never played the big points well against Serena. Once again, she had triple-game point to earn a 3-1 lead but loses it. Rough.

The sun sets as the second set begins. (Al Bello/Getty Images) The sun sets as the second set begins. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

5:29 pm. ET | Li breaks, leads *2-1.

The snap, the hold, it's up and it's good. Serena nails the extra point and she now leads 7-0 against Li. Something tells me that Serena is going to get asked after the match about whether this scoreline (however it holds up) makes women's tennis look bad. She was asked a similar question after she came back from injury and started winning again. I hope I don't have to explain why that's such an incredibly ill-conceived, arguably sexist question (does Rafael Nadal get asked if the rest of the ATP is a joke because he came back from a four-month layoff and dominated?), but this isn't so much about the competition as it is about how good Serena Williams is at tennis.

Li finally snaps the streak of 24 games won by Serena and gets on the board. On game point, Li actually goes with the serve and volley. Hey, why not?

The last time Li Na lost the first set 6-0 to Serena she came back to win. (Al Bello/Getty Images) The last time Li Na lost the first set 6-0 to Serena she came back to win. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

A few loose errors from Serena and, holy smokes, Li actually has her first break points of the match. Serena saves them both and punctuates the next point with a huge "COME ON!!!" But another error, this time off the backhand, gets it back to deuce, and Li snags the next two points to break.

Li leads 2-1. Now ... can she hold?


First set

5:15 pm. ET | Serena wins the first set 6-0.

Serena drops the bagel on Li in 29 minutes. Not much to say about this one. Serena is just playing like the best player in the world. Li can't come up with any answers right now. That's 23 straight games for Serena dating to her fourth-round match against Sloane Stephens.

Here's the first set stat line. Blink and you missed it. All of it.

Serena: 1 ace, 3 double faults, winning 85 percent first serves, 4 winners, 9 unforced errors, 3-for-3 on break points, 3-for-4 at the net.

Li: 0 aces, 3 double faults, winning 43 percent first serves, just 25 percent on second serves, 1 winner, 12 unforced errors, 0-for-3 at the net.

Serena Williams serves up her third straight bagel set of the tournament. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) Serena Williams serves up her third straight bagel set of the tournament. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

5:08 pm. ET | Serena breaks again, leads 5-0.

Unless Li can tighten things up, this is going to be the worst set lost by Li to Serena since 2009 (6-2) or 2008 (6-1). In their last three matches, Serena won 7-5, 7-5 in Cincinnati, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in Miami and 7-6 (2), 6-3 at the WTA Championships last year.

As Mary Carillo just described it, this is "stingy" tennis from Serena. Li is going to have to go for more earlier in the rally or get herself up to the net to put at least a little pressure on Serena.

For those who are wondering (and it sounds like John McEnroe is looking for this stat), Maria Sharapova won at least 24 straight games earlier this year at the Australian Open, when she started the tournament with two double bagels.

5:00 pm. ET | Serena breaks, leads 3-0.

Li won the toss and chose to receive. Serena responds with a love hold. So that tactic didn't exactly work, but it was worth a try.

Li looked in good position to hold in her first service game after building a 40-15 lead. But Serena gets it back to deuce and eventually breaks. She's started this match very, very cleanly. Li's forehand, which is her less consistent side, is already looking wobbly. She earns a break point thanks to a few loose errors from Serena, but Serena saves it and holds.

https://twitter.com/tennisabstract/status/376087684441047040

To add a little bit of intrigue to this match is this piece from Christopher Clarey of The New York Times, which has some interesting quotes from Serena's coach, Patrick Mouratoglou (who seems to have been giving interviews to everyone this week), about Li's coach, Carlos Rodriguez. Here's what Mouratoglou had to say:

Rodriguez began working with Li in July 2012, and she might already have won a major title on his watch if she had not twisted her ankle with a one-set lead over Azarenka in this year’s Australian Open final.

But for now her only Grand Slam singles title remains the one she won at the 2011 French Open before they joined forces. Mouratoglou, seldom shy to express an opinion, sounds unimpressed.

“The connection with Justine [Henin] was clearly very, very strong, and it worked for a long time with lots of success,” Mouratoglou said. “Now if he’s capable of reproducing these kinds of results with another player, it will show, really show, that he is extremely competent. For the moment, in my view, he has not taken Li to a new level. It will come perhaps. Often you need time.

“But for me in terms of results, her former coach Thomas Hogstedt did get her to a new level, and that’s what counts. Producing beautiful tennis, that’s good, but our job is to get players to win and to move into new spheres. I’m not saying Carlos and Li Na won’t do it. I say that we have to wait, but she is clearly a player who has the potential to win more Grand Slam tournaments.”

Interesting comments from Mouratoglou, especially considering he's a less-experienced and, arguably, less-accomplished coach compared to Rodriguez. But that's not to say the substance of what he's saying is wrong. Only time will tell if the Li-Rodriguez partnership is successful, but so far I would say it is. Li was spiraling down the rankings when she hired Rodriguez last summer, and under him she's made the Australian Open final, Wimbledon quarterfinal and now the U.S. Open semifinal. That's progress.

Pre-match

Serena Williams and Li Na Serena Williams (left) was 8-1 against Li Na entering Friday. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images; Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

No. 1 Serena Williams and fifth-seeded Li Na will meet in the semifinals of the U.S. Open on Friday. CBS will televise the match, which is expected to begin around 4:45 p.m. at Arthur Ashe Stadium. The winner faces Victoria Azarenka in Sunday's final.

Williams, 31, the defending champion, is seeking to make her third consecutive U.S. Open final. She has not been challenged yet; her closest set was 6-4, against Sloane Stephens in the fourth round. Williams double-bageled No. 18 Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarterfinals and has lost 13 games in five matches.

Li, 31, has been solid, too, en route to her first U.S. Open semifinal. She has dropped one set, against No. 24 Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals. She's also beaten No. 9 Jelena Jankovic and No. 30 Laura Robson.

Williams is 8-1 against Li, including 2-0 this year, the most recent being a 7-5, 7-5 victory in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open last month. But Li has tended to play tight sets against Williams despite the lopsided head-to-head.

"She's a great challenge," Williams said of Li. She does everything well. I think the challenge of playing someone like her is how do you beat a player that does everything so well?"

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