Wimbledon: Serena Williams beats Barbora Strycova to reach final

Playing tennis significantly better than in her nervous quarter-final, the old Serena Williams reappeared for her public on Thursday to beat the slightly less old Barbora Strycova in straight sets and reserve a place in her 12th Wimbledon final.

In seven of the previous 11 deciders, Williams has prevailed. On Saturday, she will need to be at her best to win her eighth title at the All England Club, when Simona Halep tries to win her first.

Williams was so much better beating Strycova 6-1, 6-2 in 59 minutes on day 10 than in her three-set struggle against Alison Riske in the quarters as to be almost unrecognisable as the same player.

There is, of course, only one Serena – and, working behind the biggest serve on the tour, she crushed an opponent who on Tuesday had embarrassed Johanna Konta, coming from 1-4 down to execute the cleverest of wins.

Two days later, she never properly got to use her deft touches or her killing slice, because Williams served her out of the contest.

There was little of note in the early exchanges to disturb the afternoon reverie of the patrons. Most indicators pointed to a Williams win: 23 majors among 72 career titles, for a start – more than double the combined total of the other semi-finalists.

To get here, the 37-year-old American has husbanded her resources, running 4kms fewer than her opponent over five matches. Her stand-and-deliver game paid its first dividend after quarter of an hour, when she broke for 3-1, then held with her second ace.

She was batting a hundred on first serves, and Strycova struggled, as she did in the opening games against Konta, before taking control of the match.

But, 1-4 down again, she found Williams an altogether different proposition. At 1-5 it looked worse – then, serving out the set, Williams had to save three break points, clinching it with another ace. The serve was as smooth as silk and as lethal as a knife. Experience counts for a lot, of course.

The last time Williams played a first-time slam semi-finalist was when she was going for the calendar slam in 2015, and came unstuck against the 32-year-old doubles specialist Roberta Vinci. Strycova, a year older now than the Italian was then, is also the oldest, at 33, to reach this stage of a major in the Open era.

The numbers that mattered most, though, were those in bright yellow on the scoreboard. Strycova fought hard at the start of the second to stem the bewildering flow of winners coming her way. She was competitive for four games – and then handed Williams the break with a botched chip shot behind her second serve. From there to the end, it was routine Williams – the Williams of old.

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