Serena Williams has motored her way into the U.S. Open final for the second straight year. The defending champion has met little opposition in six matches, and that would include Friday's straight-sets win over Li Na in the semifinals.
Her power, her speed, her serve, her shots are all of the quality of the No. 1 player in the world, peaking at just the right time. Li got to see her full arsenal as Williams beat her, 6-0, 6-3.
Consider this: When Li held her serve in the second game of the second set, it ended a run of 24 straight games without a loss for Williams, dating to the second set of her round of 16 match against Sloane Stephens. When Li broke her serve in the next game, it was only the second time Williams had lost serve in the tournament; she had committed consecutive double faults against Stephens in the first set of that match.
Williams has lost only 16 games in this Open, her all-time best. She had lost only 19 entering the final last year against Victoria Azarenka, whom she beat for the title and will face again Sunday.
The single most entertaining aspect of Friday's match was when Li held serve in the eighth game of the second set, a game that lasted almost 14 minutes. Li fought off six match points in the game, which went to eight deuces, and played with the desperation that she wished she had started the match with.
"It got a little tough at the end," said Williams, who will turn 32 at the end of the month. "I got a little nervous but I was able to close it out."
Perplexed that she played so poorly, Li didn't attribute it to Williams but rather her own nerves. It was surprising because it's not as if she had not played big matches before.
Li won the French Open in 2011 and reached the final of two Australian Opens. Her semifinal appearance at this year's U.S. Open, however, was her deepest run in the event.
"Today doesn't matter who is opponent," said Li, who is prone to some self-loathing. "Problem in myself, because today I cannot face to the problem, you know . . . I should not be nervous because not first time to play semis. But when I walk to the court, I was feeling the court so big. I was feeling like a football court."
For Williams, losing the six match points in the eighth game and then losing her serve were little more than a speed bump. Azarenka figures to be a bigger hurdle. Williams has lost to the 24-year-old from Belarus twice on hard courts this season but still holds a 12-3 career record against her.
"She lifts her game whenever it counts," Williams said.
But Williams has two things going for her. One, she lifts her own game whenever it counts. Two, the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd always lifts her spirits.
"I hear constantly, 'Go Serena, go Serena,' " she said right after the match. "I hear young voices and I hear older voices. It's just so great."