MELBOURNE, Australia – This time, Serena Williamscleared the major semifinal hurdle with plenty of room to spare. In fact, she soared over it.
In her first tournament since being tripped up at this stage during last year’s U.S. Open, the world No. 1 and defending Australian Open champion sprinted by No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 6-4.
Her reward is a ticket into a seventh final here – a stage in which she’s never lost at in Melbourne, six for six – and the chance to equal Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles.
Standing in her way is Graf's countrywoman, Angelique Kerber, the No. 7 seed advancing to her first-ever Grand Slam final with a victory later Thursday afternoon.
Williams and Radwanska had met eight times prior, the Polish player winning just one set in those previous contests, in the 2012 Wimbledon final.
Playing under a closed roof inside Rod Laver Arena as rain fell outside, Williams was pouring winners onto the court, hitting four in the first game alone to break Radwanska out of the gates. She would win the first set in 21 minutes, closing it out with a forehand winner, her 18th untouched ball of the set.
Serena Williams is seeking her seventh Australian Open title.
Radwanska finally got on the board in the second set, holding for 1-0 to a big applause from an otherwise subdued crowd. Williams would break for a 3-1 lead, but then Radwanska dug in, her crafty, all-court game impacting the brut force of Williams more and more.
She broke for 3-3, then held in the match’s longest game – 12 points – which included a dazzling lob-volley winner combo from Radwanska. At 4-all Williams broke free again, hitting a swinging forehand volley winner to earn break point and capitalizing on the opportunity. From there she’d serve out the match, three aces and a forehand volley winner from mid court.
Williams was denied a piece of history in September when Roberta Vinci, the world No. 43, shocked her in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, Williams was two wins away from completing the calendar Grand Slam.
"Mentally I needed that break after the U.S. Open," Williams said on court after the win. "It just feels so good; I didn’t think that I would do this well this fast. I’m really excited to be in another final. It just blows my mind right now.
"She started playing really well in the second set, making a lot of great shots and hitting the ball deep. But I just went back to my game plan and started to play aggressive again."
“I didn't really think that I was playing bad,” Radwanska, 24, told reporters. “I think she started unbelievable … I was just standing there kind of watching. I had my little chance in second set, especially when it was 4-all. But otherwise, just too good.”
"I took so much time off trying to prepare for this," Williams added. "Whatever happens, I’m just so excited to be in another final."
Graf is the last player – man or woman – to win four majors in one season (1988), but Williams is now just one match away from equaling the German on her other Open era accolade of 22 majors.
She is almost a sure bet once she gets to the final. Williams is an overwhelming 21-4 in major championships, having last lost in a title tilt at the 2011 U.S. Open, before she linked up with current coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
Her opponent is a first-time Grand Slam finalist, as No. 7 seed Kerber beat unseededJohanna Konta, the world No. 47, in Thursday’s second semifinal.
Williams owns a 5-1 head-to-head advantage over Kerber, her lone loss coming in the Cincinnati final in 2012.
Saturday in Melbourne, Williams will look to capture the $3.4 million that comes along with this crown, which would be her seventh here. She’ll look to better her own record – set at Wimbledon last summer – of becoming the oldest player to win a Grand Slam title in the Open Era, having been 33 years and 285 days old on that day in July.
Williams won her 74th career match at Melbourne Park Thursday (74-9), the most of any woman, and has dropped just 26 games in six matches, going 12 for 12 in sets won.
Asked if he had any sympathy for Radwanska, Williams' coach, Mouratoglou said no, even if he did like her as a person.
“I’m not here to have sympathy,” he said. “My job is to win. If I start to have sympathy, I cannot do my job.”