After a couple of shaky starts in her previous matches, Serena Williams saved her fans any more heart palpitations by crushing the defending champion, Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-0, 6-3 in 1 hour, 5 minutes under the lights Thursday in a semi-final of the Sony Open.
Radwanska had only won one set off Serena in four previous meetings and from the first ball there did not seem much chance of her improving on that dismal record. Serena went straight into her best rhythm, driving balls off both flanks into the far corners of the court. The tall Polish player chased as best she could, but not until the second set did she manage to engage her opponent in any meaningful rallies.
So Serena goes into her eighth final of a tournament she has already won five times. “I have to do well here,” she told the crowd. “I’m from south Florida and all my friends and family are here. I’m excited because I’m in the final again.”
A shriek of approval greeted that remark and there is no doubt that the younger Williams sister will feel the warmth of hometown support when she plays Maria Sharapova at 11:30 a.m. EST on Saturday.
Referring to her struggles earlier in the week, Serena said, “I felt pretty good in practice and I just said ‘It’s coming, keep trying, keep going for it’ and tonight it worked well.”
Once again, by outclassing the No. 4-ranked player in the world, Serena showed how far she can distance herself from the rest of the field when she is playing at the top of her game.
The only Frenchman to get as far as the final of this tournament is Sebastien Grosjean, who keeps a home in Boca Raton and was beaten by Richard Krajicek in 1999. Grosjean is now coaching Richard Gasquet and is obviously passing on some useful tips because the 26-year-old, seeded eighth, completely outplayed the No. 4-seed Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-3.
“Sebastien is telling me good things every day for sure,” Gasquet said. “He did the finals many years ago so I will try to do the same. It will be tough. For sure tomorrow I have a difficult match to play.”
For sure. Gasquet will be up against Andy Murray who has beaten him four times in seven meetings. But on a chilly evening, Berdych could not repeat the victory he scored over Gasquet two weeks ago at Indian Wells.
"Not apologizing for myself but it was just too much tennis for me in the last seven weeks," said Berdych, who was a semi-finalist at Indian Wells and, before that, a finalist at Marseille and Dubai. “My tank is empty completely. I was trying to do my best, trying to bring whatever I had. But Richard was stronger. He was better today. He didn’t give me any chance at all so definitely he deserves to win.”
As usual it was the Frenchman’s classic one-handed backhand that did much of the damage. Many of Gasquet’s 16 winners came off that flank while the big Czech frequently had a hard time keeping the ball in court.
Win or lose against Murray, this will stand as Gasquet’s most successful start to a season. He has a 21-4 match record and has already picked up two ATP titles in Qatar and Marseille.