NEW YORK (Reuters) - Serena Williams has never been one to approach the net until it is time to exchange post-match pleasantries with an opponent but on Thursday she broke from tradition and it paid off with a trip to the U.S. Open final.
The six-times champion charged to the net with purpose throughout the match to win a staggering 24 of 28 net points, or 86 percent, in a 6-3 6-0 blowout win over Latvian 19th seed Anastasija Sevastova.
“I just usually come in (to the net) only to shake hands but tonight I thought I am playing such a good player and I knew if I wanted to have a chance tonight I had to come in,” Williams said during her on-court interview.
“I wanted to try something different today and it worked in my favor.”
Williams has amassed 23 Grand Slam championships, one shy of the record held by Australian Margaret Court, largely on the back of a powerful serve and ground game that really left her little reason to even play at the net.
But she was committed to the net game from the outset of the 66-minute demolition and was so effective it looked like she had been doing it for years as she sent back pinpoint overhead shots and winners whenever Sevastova tried to pass her.
“I’ve been working hard on my volleys,” said Williams, who will be playing in her 31st Grand Slam final on Sunday when she faces Japanese 20th seed Naomi Osaka. “I’ve won a few doubles championships so I know how to volley.”
As the lopsided match wore on Williams looked more and more comfortable at the net and in the second set converted 13 of 14 opportunities against an overwhelmed Sevastova, who was playing in her first Grand Slam semi-final.
Williams later said she tries to do little things different for each player she faces and felt attacking the net was the best way to have success against Sevastova, someone she had never before faced in competition.
“I knew playing against her, I felt like, you know, I needed to get to the net a little bit more,” Williams, who is seeded 17th in New York, told reporters.
“I know how to play at the net. I have great volleys, or else I wouldn’t have won so many Grand Slam doubles titles. I know how to do it. It’s just the fact of turning it on and actually doing it.
“Somehow it worked tonight. I actually did it. I’ve been training on it, practicing it, and it came together.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury